Hippocampal volume has been shown to be sensitive to variations in estrogen and progesterone levels across rodents' estrous cycle. However, little is known about the covariation of hormone levels and brain structure in the course of the human menstrual cycle. Here, we examine this covariation with a multi-method approach that includes several brain imaging methods and hormonal assessments. We acquired structural and functional scans from 21 naturally cycling women on four time points during their cycles (early follicular phase, late follicular phase, ovulation and luteal phase). Hormone blood concentrations and cognitive performance in different domains were assessed on each of the measurement occasions. Structural MRI images were processed by means of whole-brain voxel-based morphometry and FreeSurfer. With either method, bilateral increases in hippocampal volume were found in the late follicular phase relative to the early follicular phase. The gray matter probability in regions of hippocampal volume increase was associated with lower mean diffusivity in the same region. In addition, we observed higher functional connectivity between the hippocampi and the bilateral superior parietal lobe in the late follicular phase. We did not find any reliable cycle-related performance variations on the cognitive tasks. The present results show that hormonal fluctuations covary with hippocampal structure and function in the course of the human menstrual cycle.
Keywords: Hippocampus; Hormones; Resting state connectivity; Structural MRI.
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