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. 2017 Aug;82:51-58.
doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.05.002. Epub 2017 May 6.

Contribution of Stress and Sex Hormones to Memory Encoding


Contribution of Stress and Sex Hormones to Memory Encoding

Christian J Merz. Psychoneuroendocrinology. .


Distinct stages of the menstrual cycle and the intake of oral contraceptives (OC) affect sex hormone levels, stress responses, and memory processes critically involved in the pathogenesis of mental disorders. To characterize the interaction of sex and stress hormones on memory encoding, 30 men, 30 women in the early follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (FO), 30 women in the luteal phase (LU), and 30 OC women were exposed to either a stress (socially evaluated cold-pressor test) or a control condition prior to memory encoding and immediate recall of neutral, positive, and negative words. On the next day, delayed free and cued recall was tested. Sex hormone levels verified distinct estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone levels between groups. Stress increased blood pressure, cortisol concentrations, and ratings of stress appraisal in all four groups as well as cued recall performance of negative words in men. Stress exposure in OC women led to a blunted cortisol response and rather enhanced cued recall of neutral words. Thus, pre-encoding stress facilitated emotional cued recall performance in men only, but not women with different sex hormone statuses pointing to the pivotal role of circulating sex hormones in modulation of learning and memory processes.

Keywords: Cortisol; Free recall; Glucocorticoids; Memory formation; Oral contraceptives; SECPT.

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