Sex Differences in Cognition Following Variations in Endocrine Status

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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Spatial memory, mediated primarily by the hippocampus, is responsible for orientation in space and retrieval of information regarding location of objects and places in an animal's environment. Since the hippocampus is dense with steroid hormone receptors and is capable of robust neuroplasticity, it is not surprising that changes in spatial memory performance occur following a variety of endocrine alterations. Here, we review cognitive changes in both spatial and nonspatial memory tasks following manipulations of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal and gonadal axes and after exposure to endocrine disruptors in rodents. Chronic stress impairs male performance on numerous behavioral cognitive tasks and enhances or does not impact female cognitive function. Sex-dependent changes in cognition following stress are influenced by both organizational and activational effects of estrogen and vary depending on the developmental age of the stress exposure, but responses to gonadal hormones in adulthood are more similar than different in the sexes. Also discussed are possible underlying neural mechanisms for these steroid hormone-dependent, cognitive effects. Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor, given at low levels during adolescent development, impairs spatial memory in adolescent male and female rats and object recognition memory in adulthood. BPA's negative effects on memory may be mediated through alterations in dendritic spine density in areas that mediate these cognitive tasks. In summary, this review discusses the evidence that endocrine status of an animal (presence or absence of stress hormones, gonadal hormones, or endocrine disruptors) impacts cognitive function and, at times, in a sex-specific manner.


After 12 months this article is available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International). Free in PMC on September 1, 2023.



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