The endocrine-brain-aging triad where many paths meet: female reproductive hormone changes at midlife and their influence on circuits important for learning and memory☆
Female mammals undergo natural fluctuations in sex steroid hormone levels throughout life. These fluctuations span from early development, to cyclic changes associated with the menstrual or estrous cycle and pregnancy, to marked hormone flux during perimenopause, and a final decline at reproductive senescence. While the transition to reproductive senescence is not yet fully understood, the vast majority of mammals experience this spontaneous, natural phenomenon with age, which has broad implications for long-lived species. Indeed, this post-reproductive life stage, and its transition, involves significant and enduring physiological changes, including considerably altered sex steroid hormone and gonadotropin profiles that impact multiple body systems, including the brain. The endocrine-brain-aging triad is especially noteworthy, as many paths meet and interact. Many of the brain regions affected by aging are also sensitive to changes in ovarian hormone levels, and aging and reproductive senescence are both associated with changes in memory performance. This review explores how menopause is related to cognitive aging, and discusses some of the key neural systems and molecular factors altered with age and reproductive hormone level changes, with an emphasis on brain regions important for learning and memory.