Striatal dopamine synthesis and cognitive flexibility differ between hormonal contraceptive users and nonusers

Caitlin M. Taylor, Daniella J. Furman, Anne S. Berry, Robert L. White, William J. Jagust, Mark D'esposito, Emily G. Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In rodents and nonhuman primates, sex hormones are powerful modulators of dopamine (DA) neurotransmission. Yet less is known about hormonal regulation of the DA system in the human brain. Using positron emission tomography (PET), we address this gap by comparing hormonal contraceptive users and nonusers across multiple aspects of DA function: DA synthesis capacity via the PET radioligand 6-[18F]fluoro-m-tyrosine ([18F]FMT), baseline D2/3 receptor binding potential using [11C]raclopride, and DA release using methylphenidate-paired [11C]raclopride. Participants consisted of 36 healthy women (n = 15 hormonal contraceptive users; n = 21 naturally cycling/non users of hormonal contraception), and men (n = 20) as a comparison group. A behavioral index of cognitive flexibility was assessed prior to PET imaging. Hormonal contraceptive users exhibited greater DA synthesis capacity than NC participants, particularly in dorsal caudate, and greater cognitive flexibility. Furthermore, across individuals, the magnitude of striatal DA synthesis capacity was associated with cognitive flexibility. No group differences were observed in D2/3 receptor binding or DA release. Analyses by sex alone may obscure underlying differences in DA synthesis tied to women's hormone status. Hormonal contraception (in the form of pill, shot, implant, ring, or intrauterine device) is used by ~400 million women worldwide, yet few studies have examined whether chronic hormonal manipulations impact basic properties of the DA system. Findings from this study begin to address this critical gap in women's health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8485-8495
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023


  • PET imaging
  • cognitive flexibility
  • dopamine
  • hormonal contraception


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