Shift in the brain network of emotional regulation in midlife women: is the menopausal transition the turning point?

Menopause. 2010 Jul;17(4):840-5. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181df840f.


Objective: The menopausal transition is marked by hormonal changes and is quite often accompanied by cognitive and emotional complaints. Recent data also suggest a heightened risk for depression. Little is known about the changes in emotional regulation that might contribute to the increased risk of depression in this population. The aim of this study was to examine the brain correlates of emotional regulation in healthy, nondepressed midlife women.

Methods: Functional magnetic resonance imaging was obtained in response to a standardized emotional regulation task. Levels of congruency were set and brain activation was measured during high- and low-conflict-resolution trials.

Results: Fourteen women aged 40 to 60 years were enrolled into the study, and 11 were included in the final analyses. Activity associated with resolution of emotional conflict was observed in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (P < 0.05). No regions were engaged in the generation/monitoring of emotional conflict. Moreover, there was a significant deactivation of the amygdala in response to fearful faces (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: Unlike similar studies in younger populations, these results suggest a more significant engagement of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and less amygdala activation in emotional regulation in midlife women. These findings are, however, consistent with previous studies in older populations. We hypothesize that a shift in emotional regulation circuitry might therefore occur in women during the menopausal transition and possibly contribute to the occurrence of mood and anxiety symptoms in women during/after this period in life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Perimenopause / physiology*
  • Postmenopause / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*