Chronic exposure to estrogen impairs some cognitive functions

This article was brought to my attention by the male minority (we have 2 men and 8 women) in my lab. They suggested that the article supports their plea to recruit more men into the lab in order to neutralize the excessive female-ness that they are exposed to every day. They are grossly exaggerating, of course. Nevertheless, here are excerpts from the article.

University of Illinois researchers report this week that chronic exposure to estradiol, the main estrogen in the body, diminishes some cognitive functions. Rats exposed to a steady dose of estradiol were impaired on tasks involving working memory and response inhibition, the researchers found.

Their report appears this week in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

The researchers made the discovery when studying the effects of estradiol on activities mediated by the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is vital to working memory and to the ability to plan, respond to changing conditions and moderate or control one's behavior.

In the new study, rats were trained to press one of two levers to obtain a food reward. Those that alternated between the levers (which were withdrawn from the rat enclosure for a few seconds between trials) received a reward. Those that hit the same lever twice in a row got no reward. Rats exposed to estradiol performed worse than their counterparts on this task, earning significantly fewer rewards.

A second set of tests measured the rats' ability to wait before responding to a stimulus. The rats had to wait 15 seconds before pushing a lever to get a reward. Those exposed to estradiol performed worse on this task than those that were not exposed.

Read the rest of the article.


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"The estradiol-treated rats "were not as good at waiting,"

"Rats treated with estradiol are definitely a lot more active and make a lot more lever presses."

These explain a lot of things :)

I can see the chauvininstic gloating now:
Ha ha it's TRUE! Wimmins are dumber!

zy, I sympathize with the eyeroll, but I think it's misplaced. It's possible that higher estrogen levels make women on average more, say, impulsive or impatient than men. This seems to be an early indication that it might be the case, and even though I'm a woman and a feminist I'd be interested to see further research on it. Being dismissive of something just because it supports a chauvinist worldview isn't really any better than rolling your eyes at something because you're a chauvinist.

Am I the only one who's frustrated that the Medical News Today report doesn't think to mention whether there was any difference in test results between male and female rats, nor even give a number about how much estradiol the rodents received in proportion to a baseline figure?

And what would be the outcome of repeating these tests with an equivalent overdose of, say, testosterone?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 08 Sep 2008 #permalink

Thank you, Pierce! Excellent critique!

Karen, tell your male lab mates to chill. Remind them that they are getting a great education at no extra expense in what it is like to be in the minority, which is a very useful experience for members of a group that is usually in the majority!