Clinical and experimental evidence suggest that estrogens have a major impact on cognition, presenting neurotrophic and neuroprotective actions in regions involved in such function. In opposite, some studies indicate that certain hormone therapy regimens may provoke detrimental effects over female cognitive and neurological function. Therefore, we decided to investigate how estrogen treatment would influence cognition and depression in different ages. For that matter, this study assessed the effects of chronic 17β-estradiol treatment over cognition and depressive-like behaviors of young (3 months old), adult (7 months old) and middle-aged (12 months old) reproductive female Wistar rats. These functions were also correlated with alterations in the serotonergic system, as well as hippocampal BDNF. 17β-Estradiol treatment did not influence animals' locomotor activity and exploratory behavior, but it was able to improve the performance of adult and middle-aged rats in the Morris water maze, the latter being more responsive to the treatment. Young and adult rats displayed decreased immobility time in the forced swimming test, suggesting an effect of 17β-estradiol also over such depressive-like behavior. This same test revealed increased swimming behavior, triggered by serotonergic pathway, in adult rats. Neurochemical evaluations indicated that 17β-estradiol treatment was able to increase serotonin turnover rate in the hippocampus of adult rats. Interestingly, estrogen treatment increased BDNF levels from animals of all ages. These findings support the notion that the beneficial effects of 17β-estradiol over spatial reference memory and depressive-like behavior are evident only when hormone therapy occurs at early ages and early stages of hormonal decline.
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