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Approved research

Role of endocrine factors in cognitive and brain aging

Principal Investigator: Dr Matthew Panizzon
Approved Research ID: 52181
Approval date: September 30th 2019

Lay summary

Throughout the lifespan, men and women show differences in brain size, and performance on certain mental tasks. In older age, men and women also show differences in rates of brain and cognitive changes, as well as risk for Alzheimer's disease. The reason for these differences is poorly understood, but as with many sex differences, sex hormone related factors likely play a contributing role. Men and women differ profoundly in how sex hormone profiles change with age. Men experience gradual declines in testosterone levels with age, whereas women experience an abrupt decline in circulating estrogen levels during the menopausal transition. Women also experience life events that can alter their hormone exposure throughout the lifespan including age at menarchy and menopause, surgical versus natural menopause, pregnancy, and the use of hormone therapies. Sex hormones also show links with other health factors that are related to brain health and Alzheimer's disease including one's genetic makeup, cardiovascular health and inflammation. In this study, we aim to better understand how sex hormone related factors contribute to sex differences in brain and mental health. First, we will examine sex hormone factors in relation to brain and mental health. In men, these hormonal factors will be circulating testosterone levels while in women they will be reproductive history variables. Then, we will examine how sex hormones influence the way in which our genetic makeup, cardiovascular disease and inflammation impact the brain and mental health. Findings from this research will help us to understand why women and men differ in the changes to the brain and mental health with age and in Alzheimer's disease risk and characteristics. A better understanding of the hormonal contribution to these differences and the effect of hormones on other health factors will allow us to better understand one's risk for developing certain brain-related disease and opens new opportunities for sex-specific preventative and treatment interventions.