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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004 Nov;29(10):1309-16.

Effect of long-term estrogen therapy on dopaminergic responsivity in post-menopausal women--a preliminary study.

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  • 1Section of Brain Maturation, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, PO 50, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK.


Females have a higher prevalence than men of neuropsychiatric disorders in which dopaminergic abnormalities play a prominent role, e.g. very late-onset schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease (PD). The biological basis of these sex differences is unknown but may include modulation of the dopaminergic system by sex hormones, as there is preliminary evidence that estrogen modulates treatment response in these disorders. Furthermore, sex differences in dopamine-mediated cognitive decline suggest estrogen may also play a role in healthy aging. However, the effects of estrogen on the dopaminergic system are poorly understood, and nobody has examined the effect of long-term estrogen therapy (ET) on this system. We compared dopaminergic responsivity (growth hormone (GH) response to apomorphine) in post-menopausal women on ET to women who were ET-naïve. GH response to subcutaneous apomorphine (0.005 mg/kg) was measured in two groups of healthy post-menopausal women aged between 55 and 70 years: those taking ET (n = 13) and those who had never taken ET (n = 13). Neither group was taking any other medication. GH was measured at 15 min intervals from -30 min before administration of apomorphine to 90 min post-administration. GH response was measured in two ways: area under the curve (AUC) and maximum response over baseline (GH). There were no between-group differences in demographic or baseline variables. The ET treated women had a significantly greater (p = 0.03) AUC than ET naïve women (mean +/- S.D.; 5.3 +/- 4.7 vs. 2.6 +/- 2.3). However, (GH) did not differ significantly between groups (6.1 mU/l +/- 6.2 vs. 2.7 mU/l +/- S.D. = 4.1). Also, analysis of GH response over time revealed a significant main effect of time (p < 0.0005), and a group by time interaction (p = 0.004) , but no significant main effect of group. Our results suggest that ET may enhance dopaminergic responsivity in post-menopausal women. Estrogen deficiency following menopause may partly explain age and gender differences in late-onset neuropsychiatric disorders.

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