Hormonal Regulation of Memory Circuitry

The brain is a major target of sex steroids, yet until recently relatively little was known about how these hormones shape brain function beyond their basic role in reproduction. A rapidly growing body of work from rodents and nonhuman primates has established estradiol’s influence on synaptic organization within the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Despite significant implications for human health, few laboratories are examining these relationships at a human cognitive neuroscience level. Capitalizing on convergent techniques from cognitive neuroscience, neuroendocrinology and imaging genetics, our earlier work identified estradiol’s impact on prefrontal cortex function and working memory performance in women. This research revealed that estradiol’s impact on prefrontal cortex function is not uniform across women, but depends in part on individual differences in genetic variability within the dopamine system. More broadly, these findings suggest that dopamine’s influence on cognition cannot be fully understood without taking estradiol into account.

Now, the lab is conducting studies to advance our understanding across two domains:

  • Characterizing how 17b-estradiol modulates top-down cognitive control mechanisms
  • Investigating the impact of oral hormonal contraceptives on memory circuitry structure and function

Researchers