by Rideeta Raquib
Previous psychological studies have suggested that women have a good memory, but a new study implies that this may be due to the impact of hormones. Other studies that tested rodents showed that there was a correlation between low estradiol (E2) levels and an increase in striatal mediated response strategies. The striatum is a region of the forebrain associated with decision-making. On the other hand, high E2 levels are associated with a rise in hippocampus-dependent spatial memory. The hippocampus area of the brain plays a role in memory retention and boosts spatial memory, which indicates a strong navigation potency.
Researchers at the Concordia University in Montreal observed the navigation strategies employed by young, healthy naturally cycling women. The participants were divided based on the various stages of the menstrual cycle, such as the early follicular stage when E2 is low, ovulatory stage when E2 is high, and mid/late luteal stage when E2 levels drop and progesterone rises. This information was based upon self-reported menstruation dates and serum hormone level measurements. The subjects had to perform a verbal memory test and a virtual navigation task. Women who were in their ovulatory phase with high E2 levels tended to perform better in the verbal memory test compared to the women in the other phases. The women in the mid/late luteal phase with high progesterone utilized spatial strategies significantly, while the opposite outcome was observed for women in the earlier stages of the cycle, such as follicular and ovulatory.
This study revealed that the memory system being employed is different depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle. It is also regulated by both estradiol and progesterone levels, suggesting that gender influences how the brain responses. Although previously male rodents and participants were recruited to develop drugs and treatments, current research emphasizes that female participants should be used to understand the difference in cognition and response to drugs.
1. D Hussain, et al. Modulation of spatial and response strategies by phase of the menstrual cycle in women tested in a virtual navigation task. Psychoneuroendocrinology 70, 108-117 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.05.008.
2. Image acquired from: http://www.crystalinks.com/memory915.jpg