Subcortical structural changes along the menstrual cycle: beyond the hippocampus

Sci Rep. 2018 Oct 30;8(1):16042. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-34247-4.


Animal studies have robustly shown hormone related changes in spine density in various brain areas, specifically the hippocampus. Literature on hormone dependent gray matter volume changes in humans is however less consistent. While various areas have been reported to change along the menstrual cycle in women, many do not survive multiple-comparisons correction and only hippocampal changes have been replicated. We attribute these problems to small sample sizes and inconsistent definitions of menstrual cycle phases. In the present study a large sample of 55 women was scanned three times along their menstrual cycle in concisely defined time windows of hormonal changes. Accordingly this is the first study using a large enough sample size to assess menstrual cycle dependent changes in human brain structure with sufficient power. Results confirm a significant estradiol-dependent pre-ovulatory increase in gray matter volumes of the bilateral hippocampus, but also show a significant, progesterone-dependent increase in gray matter volumes of the right basal ganglia after ovulation. No other areas were affect by hormonal changes along the menstrual cycle. These hormone driven menstrual cycle changes in human brain structure are small, but may be the underlying cause of menstrual cycle dependent changes in cognition and emotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Menstrual Cycle*
  • Young Adult


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Hormones