Estrogen, brain structure, and cognition in postmenopausal women

Christina P. Boyle, Cyrus A. Raji, Kirk I. Erickson, Oscar L. Lopez, James T. Becker, H. Michael Gach, Lewis H. Kuller, William Longstreth, Owen T. Carmichael, Brandalyn C. Riedel, Paul M. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Declining estrogen levels before, during, and after menopause can affect memory and risk for Alzheimer's disease. Undesirable side effects of hormone variations emphasize a role for hormone therapy (HT) where possible benefits include a delay in the onset of dementia—yet findings are inconsistent. Effects of HT may be mediated by estrogen receptors found throughout the brain. Effects may also depend on lifestyle factors, timing of use, and genetic risk. We studied the impact of self-reported HT use on brain volume in 562 elderly women (71–94 years) with mixed cognitive status while adjusting for aforementioned factors. Covariate-adjusted voxelwise linear regression analyses using a model with 16 predictors showed HT use as positively associated with regional brain volumes, regardless of cognitive status. Examinations of other factors related to menopause, oophorectomy and hysterectomy status independently yielded positive effects on brain volume when added to our model. One interaction term, HTxBMI, out of several examined, revealed significant negative association with overall brain volume, suggesting a greater reduction in brain volume than BMI alone. Our main findings relating HT to regional brain volume were as hypothesized, but some exploratory analyses were not in line with existing hypotheses. Studies suggest lower levels of estrogen resulting from oophorectomy and hysterectomy affect brain volume negatively, and the addition of HT modifies the relation between BMI and brain volume positively. Effects of HT may depend on the age range assessed, motivating studies with a wider age range as well as a randomized design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-35
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Brain volume
  • hormone therapy


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