Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2018 Oct 11;20(12):109.
doi: 10.1007/s11920-018-0972-1.

Estrogens, Aging, and Working Memory

Free PMC article

Estrogens, Aging, and Working Memory

Elizabeth Hampson. Curr Psychiatry Rep. .
Free PMC article


Purpose of review: Working memory (WM) is a key process that is integral to many complex cognitive tasks, and it declines significantly with advancing age. This review will survey recent evidence supporting the idea that the functioning of the WM system in women is modulated by circulating estrogens.

Recent findings: In postmenopausal women, increased estrogen concentrations may be associated with improved WM function, which is evident on WM tasks that have a high cognitive load or significant manipulation demands. Experimental studies in rhesus monkeys and human neuroimaging studies support a prefrontal locus for these effects. Defining the basic neurochemical or cellular mechanisms that underlie the ability of estrogens to regulate WM is a topic of current research in both human and animal investigations. An emerging body of work suggests that frontal executive elements of the WM system are influenced by the circulating estrogen concentrations currently available to the CNS and that the effects are region-specific within the frontal cortex. These findings have implications for women's brain health and cognitive aging.

Keywords: Estradiol; Estrogen; Frontal cortex; Menopause; Short-term memory; Working memory.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest

The author declares the she has no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
A schematic representation of the spatial working memory (SPWM) task of Duff and Hampson [14]. Participants open two doors at a time on a homogenous appearing background, discovering the colors hidden beneath. Going back to a previously visited pair of locations is considered a working memory error (WME). Top: a matching pair of colors. Second from top: a non-matching pair. Third from top: another non-matching pair. Bottom: an example of a WME. The goal is to find all the matching pairs in as few moves as possible, by opening only two doors at a time. WMEs can be committed on the SPWM in several different ways; full scoring instructions are available upon request from the author. (Reprinted from: Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, Vol 23, Hampson, E., Regulation of cognitive function by androgens and estrogens, pp. 49–57, 2018, with permission from Elsevier)

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 2 articles


    1. Daselaar Sander, Cabeza Roberto. Age-Related Decline in Working Memory and Episodic Memory. 2013.
    1. Braver TS, West R. Working memory, executive control and aging. In: Craik FIM, Salthouse TA, editors. The handbook of aging and cognition. 3. New York: Psychology Press; 2008. pp. 311–372.
    1. Funahashi S. Working memory in the prefrontal cortex. Brain Sci. 2017;7:49. doi: 10.3390/brainsci7050049. - DOI - PMC - PubMed
    1. Kirchner WK. Age differences in short-term retention of rapidly changing information. J Exp Psychol. 1958;55:352–358. doi: 10.1037/h0043688. - DOI - PubMed
    1. Wiegersma S, van der Scheer E, Human R. Subjective ordering, short-term memory, and the frontal lobes. Neuropsychologia. 1990;28:85–98. doi: 10.1016/0028-3932(90)90089-7. - DOI - PubMed

Publication types