Yale UniversityHormone therapy apparently can preserve the memories of women just entering menopause. According to a research being conducted at Yale University, hormone therapy may be of some use to women who are in the initial stages of their menopause. On the contrary the therapy is seemingly of not much benefit for older women and may lead to breast cancer, heart diseases and stroke.

A new paper from the team at Yale identifies a biological reason as to why estrogen needs to be implemented during this ‘critical window’ to thwart the cognitive decline in women.

Lead scientist Karyn Frick comments on the implementation by saying that, “Giving hormones as treatment for cognitive decline is tricky because hormones can bind to receptors all over the body, which can lead to harmful side effects. My lab is trying to identify the specific molecules in the brain that are necessary for hormones to influence memory formation, which could lead to the development of novel drugs that provide the cognitive benefits of hormones without adverse effects.”

The team examined a cell-signaling pathway in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is responsible for learning and memory that had earlier been recognized as important to estrogen’s ability to enhance memory. In the new research on mice, the team discovered that estrogen activated the signaling pathway in the hippocampus and thereby accentuated the ability of middle-aged female mice to recall objects. Nonetheless the older female mice reported no such change. The results suggest that the inability of estrogen to activate certain cell-signaling pathways in the hippocampus may be responsible for no improvement in the memory in older females.

The data collected from the research sustains a window of opportunities in the early stages of menopause during which the hormone treatment may benefit cognition. It also suggests that the failure of estrogen to boost memory in older females probably results from dysfunction of a specific molecular pathway in the brain.

Through a related research, Frick and her colleagues verified that epigenetic processes, in which access to DNA is tainted rather than the genetic code itself, adjust the ability of estrogen to improve the memory of young female mice. The research presented that estrogen changed two important epigenetic processes in the hippocampus, and that these changes were vital for estrogen to improve memory formation. Frick is of the opinion that by focusing on these epigenetic processes, there is a potential of developing drugs that may have similar effects as estrogen on memory.

The paper written by the team was published in the March 24 Journal of Neuroscience, while the research was published in the March 8 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Both the researches were funded by the National Institute on Aging.