Critical Period Abstracts 1

© 2010

The beneficial effects of estradiol on attentional processes are dependent on timing of treatment initiation following ovariectomy in middle-aged rats

            (Bohacek and Daniel 2010) Download

The goal of the present study was to explore the effects of long-term hormone deprivation on the ability of subsequent estrogen treatment to affect attention performance on the 5-choice serial reaction time task (5-CSRTT). In an initial experiment to assess estradiol effects in young adults, 2-month-old rats were trained on the 5-CSRTT, then ovariectomized and immediately implanted with capsules containing cholesterol (n=10) or estradiol (n=10). Then rats were tested on the 5-CSRTT under baseline task parameters, under increased task difficulty (behavior challenge condition), and finally in muscarinic and nicotinic drug challenge conditions. In a second experiment, 10-month-old rats were trained on the 5-CSRTT and at 12 or 17 months of age rats were ovariectomized and treated with estradiol or cholesterol, so that one group received continuous cholesterol control treatment, two groups received estradiol treatment immediately following ovariectomy (either at 12 or 17 months), and one group received delayed estradiol treatment initiated 5 months following ovariectomies. At 17 months of age, rats were tested on the 5-CSRTT. Baseline performance was comparable between estradiol- and cholesterol-treated rats of both age groups. However, young estradiol-treated rats outperformed controls when behavior was challenged by shortening the intertrial interval (Short ITI). In the same Short ITI condition, middle-aged rats receiving immediate estradiol treatment beginning at the age of 17 months, but not 12 months, outperformed controls as well as animals receiving delayed estradiol treatment. No differences between groups were found in the cholinergic drug challenge conditions. These data indicate that chronic estradiol treatment for approximately 1 month but not 6 months is able to enhance attention performance, and that prolonged ovarian hormone deprivation attenuates these beneficial effects of subsequent estradiol treatment. These findings have implications for informing clinical research about the importance of timing and duration of hormone treatment.


Estradiol replacement enhances working memory in middle-aged rats when initiated immediately after ovariectomy but not after a long-term period of ovarian hormone deprivation

            (Daniel, Hulst et al. 2006) Download

The goal of the present study was to explore the effects of long-term hormone deprivation on the ability of subsequent estrogen replacement to affect cognition. Female rats, 12 months of age, underwent ovariectomies (n = 30) or sham surgeries (n = 10). Intact rats and 20 ovariectomized rats received cholesterol implants. Ten ovariectomized rats received implants containing 25% estradiol. Five months later, implants were replaced. Half of the ovariectomized rats with cholesterol implants received estradiol implants and half received new cholesterol implants. Rats with estradiol implants received new estradiol implants. Intact rats were ovariectomized and given estradiol implants. Beginning 1 wk later, working memory performance was assessed in an eight-arm radial maze across 24 d of acquisition and during eight additional trials in which a 2.5-h delay was imposed between the fourth and fifth arm choices. Estradiol replacement initiated immediately after ovariectomy at either 12 or 17 months of age significantly improved performance during acquisition and delay trials, compared with control treatment. When estradiol replacement was initiated at 17 months of age, 5 months after ovariectomy, no enhancements were evident. Uteri of rats that experienced delayed estradiol replacement weighed significantly more than uteri of ovariectomized controls but significantly less than uteri of rats that received immediate estradiol replacement. Uterine weight negatively correlated with mean errors during acquisition. These results indicate that whereas chronic estradiol replacement regimens positively affect working memory in middle-aged animals when initiated immediately after ovariectomy, estradiol replacement is not effective when initiated after long-term hormone deprivation.

The critical period hypothesis of estrogen effects on cognition: Insights from basic research

            (Daniel and Bohacek 2010) Download

BACKGROUND: In addition to its primary role in reproduction estrogen impacts brain areas important for cognition, including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. It has been hypothesized that decline in estrogen levels in women following menopause is associated with, or can exacerbate, age-related cognitive decline. However, clinical evidence to support a role for estrogen in preventing cognitive decline in women as they age is equivocal. The critical period hypothesis of estrogen effects on cognition, which proposes that estrogen administration has to be initiated within a critical time period following the loss of ovarian function in order for it to exert positive effects on the central nervous system, is offered as one explanation for inconsistencies across studies. SCOPE OF REVIEW: This review details results from basic research using rodent models investigating the effects of estrogen on cognition in the aging female. Emphasis is placed on work investigating effects of timing of initiation of estrogen administration on its subsequent efficacy. MAJOR CONCLUSIONS: Results of basic research provide support for the critical period hypothesis. Furthermore, results of work in rodent models suggest mechanisms by which the response to estrogen is altered if treatment is initiated following long-term ovarian hormone deprivation. GENERAL SIGNIFICANCE: Understanding if and under what conditions hormone administration following the loss of ovarian function positively affects the brain and behavior could have important implications with regard to female cognitive aging. Results of basic research can contribute to this understanding and provide insight into the complex mechanisms by which estrogen affects cognition.

A new approach to understanding the molecular mechanisms through which estrogens affect cognition

            Frick 2010 - Download

Does short-term estrogen therapy produce lasting benefits in brain?

            (Gibbs 2010) Download

Estrogen therapy and cognition: a review of the cholinergic hypothesis

            (Gibbs 2010) Download

The pros and cons of estrogen therapy for use in postmenopausal women continue to be a major topic of debate in women's health. Much of this debate focuses on the potential benefits vs. harm of estrogen therapy on the brain and the risks for cognitive impairment associated with aging and Alzheimer's disease. Many animal and human studies suggest that estrogens can have significant beneficial effects on brain aging and cognition and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's-related dementia; however, others disagree. Important discoveries have been made, and hypotheses have emerged that may explain some of the inconsistencies. This review focuses on the cholinergic hypothesis, specifically on evidence that beneficial effects of estrogens on brain aging and cognition are related to interactions with cholinergic projections emanating from the basal forebrain. These cholinergic projections play an important role in learning and attentional processes, and their function is known to decline with advanced age and in association with Alzheimer's disease. Evidence suggests that many of the effects of estrogens on neuronal plasticity and function and cognitive performance are related to or rely upon interactions with these cholinergic projections; however, studies also suggest that the effectiveness of estrogen therapy decreases with age and time after loss of ovarian function. We propose a model in which deficits in basal forebrain cholinergic function contribute to age-related changes in the response to estrogen therapy. Based on this model, we propose that cholinergic-enhancing drugs, used in combination with an appropriate estrogen-containing drug regimen, may be a viable therapeutic strategy for use in older postmenopausal women with early evidence of mild cognitive decline.

Assessment of estradiol influence on spatial tasks and hippocampal CA1 spines: evidence that the duration of hormone deprivation after ovariectomy compromises 17beta-estradiol effectiveness in altering CA1 spines

            (McLaughlin, Bimonte-Nelson et al. 2008) Download

Two pulses of 17beta-estradiol (10 microg) are commonly used to increase hippocampal CA1 apical dendritic spine density and alter spatial performance in ovariectomized (OVX) female rats, but rarely are the measures combined. The goal of this study was to use this two-pulse injection protocol repeatedly with intervening wash-out periods in the same rats to: 1) measure spatial ability using different tasks that require hippocampal function and 2) determine whether ovarian hormone depletion for an extended 10-week period reduces 17beta-estradiol's effectiveness in elevating CA1 apical dendritic spine density. Results showed that two injections of 10 microg 17beta-estradiol (72 and 48 h prior to testing and timed to maximize CA1 apical spine density at behavioral assessment) corresponded to improved spatial memory performance on object placement. In contrast, two injections of 5 microg 17beta-estradiol facilitated spatial learning on the water maze compared to rats given two injections of 10 microg 17beta-estradiol or the sesame oil vehicle. Neither 17beta-estradiol dose altered Y-maze performance. As expected, the intermittent two-pulse injection protocol increased CA1 apical spine density, but 10 weeks of OVX without estradiol treatment decreased the effectiveness of 10 microg 17beta-estradiol to increase CA1 apical spine density. Moreover, two pulses of 5 microg 17beta-estradiol injected intermittently failed to alter CA1 apical spine density and decreased basal spine density. These results demonstrate that extended time without ovarian hormones reduces 17beta-estradiol's effectiveness to increase CA1 apical spine density. Collectively, these findings highlight the complex interactions among estradiol, CA1 spine density/morphology, and task requirements, all of which contribute to behavioral outcomes.


Activational and organisational effects of gonadal steroids on sex-specific acetylcholine release in the dorsal hippocampus

            (Mitsushima, Takase et al. 2009) Download

Acetylcholine (ACh) release in the dorsal hippocampus increases during stress, exploration or learning, exhibiting sex-specific 24-h release profile. We review the role of gonadal steroids on the ACh release in the dorsal hippocampus. In our studies, we found that male rats showed higher extracellular ACh levels than females, but gonadectomy decreased ACh levels in both sexes of rats and subsequently eliminated the sex difference. To examine the sex difference under comparable gonadal steroid levels, we implanted steroid capsules after gonadectomy. Oestradiol supplementation maintained circulating oestradiol to the levels in proestrous female rats, whereas testosterone capsules maintained circulating testosterone to the levels similar to intact male rats. Under comparable gonadal steroids levels, ACh levels were sex-specific. Testosterone replacement in orchidectomised rats clearly restored ACh levels, which were greater than ovariectomised testosterone-primed rats. Similarly, oestradiol replacement in ovariectomised rats successfully restored ACh levels, which were higher than orchidectomised oestradiol-primed rats. These results suggest sex-specific activational effects of gonadal steroids on ACh release. To further examine the organisational effect, female pups were neonatally treated with oil, testosterone, oestradiol, or dihydrotestosterone. These rats were bilaterally ovariectomised and a testosterone capsule was implanted at postnatal week 8. Neonatal treatment of either testosterone or oestradiol clearly increased ACh levels, whereas neonatal dihydrotestosterone treatment failed to change levels. These results suggest that: (i) gonadal steroids maintain the sex-specific ACh release in the dorsal hippocampus and (ii) neonatal activation of oestrogen receptors is sufficient to mediate masculinisation of the septo-hippocampal cholinergic system.

The critical period hypothesis: can it explain discrepancies in the oestrogen-cognition literature?

            (Sherwin 2007) Download

Although there is compelling evidence from small randomised controlled trials and cross-sectional studies indicating that oestrogen helps to protect against cognitive ageing in women, the findings of the large, Women's Health Initiative Memory Study failed to support the earlier findings. The attempt to resolve these discrepancies led to the formulation of the Critical Period Hypothesis which holds that oestrogen has maximal protective benefits on cognition in women when it is initiated closely in time to a natural or surgical menopause but not when treatment is begun decades after the menopause. This article reviews the evidence from basic neuroendocrinology, from animal behavioural studies and from human studies that supports the critical period hypothesis. In view of the promise of this hypothesis and its considerable clinical implications, a direct test of its validity is warranted.

Duration of estrogen deprivation, not chronological age, prevents estrogens ability to enhance hippocampal synaptic physiology

            Smith 2010 – Download


References

Bohacek, J. and J. M. Daniel (2010). "The beneficial effects of estradiol on attentional processes are dependent on timing of treatment initiation following ovariectomy in middle-aged rats." Psychoneuroendocrinology 35(5): 694-705.

Daniel, J. M. and J. Bohacek (2010). "The critical period hypothesis of estrogen effects on cognition: Insights from basic research." Biochim Biophys Acta 1800(10): 1068-76.

Daniel, J. M., J. L. Hulst, et al. (2006). "Estradiol replacement enhances working memory in middle-aged rats when initiated immediately after ovariectomy but not after a long-term period of ovarian hormone deprivation." Endocrinology 147(1): 607-14.

Gibbs, R. B. (2010). "Does short-term estrogen therapy produce lasting benefits in brain?" Endocrinology 151(3): 843-5.

Gibbs, R. B. (2010). "Estrogen therapy and cognition: a review of the cholinergic hypothesis." Endocr Rev 31(2): 224-53.

McLaughlin, K. J., H. Bimonte-Nelson, et al. (2008). "Assessment of estradiol influence on spatial tasks and hippocampal CA1 spines: evidence that the duration of hormone deprivation after ovariectomy compromises 17beta-estradiol effectiveness in altering CA1 spines." Horm Behav 54(3): 386-95.

Mitsushima, D., K. Takase, et al. (2009). "Activational and organisational effects of gonadal steroids on sex-specific acetylcholine release in the dorsal hippocampus." J Neuroendocrinol 21(4): 400-5.

Sherwin, B. B. (2007). "The critical period hypothesis: can it explain discrepancies in the oestrogen-cognition literature?" J Neuroendocrinol 19(2): 77-81.