Study helps deconstruct estrogen's role in memory

September 18, 2013
Using an animal model, UW-Milwaukee psychology professor Karyn Frick studies the neural mechanisms of estrogen's role in memory. Credit: Troye Fox

The loss of estrogens at menopause increases a woman's risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, yet hormone replacement therapy can cause harmful side effects.

Knowing the exact mechanism of estrogen activation in the brain could lead to new targets for drug development that would provide middle-aged women the cognitive benefits of without increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease or breast cancer.

In a new study, Karyn Frick, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), uncovers details about estrogen's role in the complex cellular communication system underlying .

"The receptor mechanisms that regulate estrogen's ability to enhance memory are still poorly understood," says Frick. "With this study, we've begun to sort out several of the key players needed for estrogens to mediate memory formation."

The research, published in the the Journal of Neuroscience today, focused on estrogen effects in a brain region called the hippocampus, which deteriorates with age or Alzheimer's disease. The researchers found that each of the two known estrogen receptors rapidly activate a specific cellular pathway necessary for memory formation in the hippocampus of , but only if they interact with a certain glutamate receptor, called mGluR1.

The study revealed that when this is blocked, the cell-signaling protein ERK cannot be activated by the potent estrogen, 17?-estradiol. Because ERK activation is necessary for memory formation, estradiol failed to enhance memory among mice in which mGluR1 was blocked.

Frick's team also found evidence that estrogen receptors and mGluR1 physically interact at the cell membrane, allowing estradiol to influence memory formation within seconds to minutes. Collectively, the data provide the first evidence that the rapid signaling initiated by such interactions is essential for estradiol to enhance memory regulated by the hippocampus.

"Our data suggesting that interactions between estrogen receptors and mGluR1 at the cell membrane are critical for estradiol to enhance memory provides important new information about how estrogens regulate memory formation," Frick says.

"Because membrane proteins are better targets for drug development than proteins inside the cell, these data could lead to a new generation of therapies that provide the of estrogens without harmful side effects."

Explore further: Certain breast cancers have a trait that could be attacked by new therapies

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...

Neurons encoding hand shapes identified in human brain

November 23, 2015

Neural prosthetic devices, which include small electrode arrays implanted in the brain, can allow paralyzed patients to control the movement of a robotic limb, whether that limb is attached to the individual or not. In May ...

Wireless sensor enables study of traumatic brain injury

November 23, 2015

A new system that uses a wireless implant has been shown to record for the first time how brain tissue deforms when subjected to the kind of shock that causes blast-induced trauma commonly seen in combat veterans.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.