Estrogens and cognition: Friends or foes?: An evaluation of the opposing effects of estrogens on learning and memory

Horm Behav. 2015 Aug;74:105-15. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.06.017. Epub 2015 Jul 3.

Abstract

This article is part of a Special Issue "Estradiol and cognition". Estrogens are becoming well known for their robust enhancement on cognition particularly for learning and memory that relies upon functioning of the hippocampus and related neural systems. What is also emerging is that estrogen modulation of cognition is not uniform, at times enhancing yet at other times impairing learning. This review explores the bidirectional effects of estrogens on learning from a multiple memory systems view, focusing on the hippocampus and striatum, whereby modulation by estrogens sorts according to task attributes and neural systems engaged during cognition. We highlight our findings showing that the ability to solve hippocampus-sensitive tasks typically improves under relatively high estrogen status while the ability to solve striatum-sensitive tasks degrades with estrogen exposures. Though constrained by dose and timing of exposure, these opposing enhancements and impairments of cognition can be observed following treatments with different estrogenic compounds including the hormone estradiol, the isoflavone genistein found in soybeans, and agonists that are selective for specific estrogen receptors, suggesting that activation of a single receptor type is sufficient to produce the observed shifts in learning strategies. Using this multi-dimensional framework will allow us to extend our thinking of the relationship between estrogens and cognition to other brain regions and cognitive functions.

Keywords: Cognition; Estradiol; Hippocampus; Multiple memory systems; Striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Memory / physiology

Substances

  • Estrogens
  • Estradiol