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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2011 Sep;96(2):378-84. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2011.06.013. Epub 2011 Jun 29.

Hormonal contraception usage is associated with altered memory for an emotional story.

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  • 1University of California, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Irvine, CA 92697, USA. nielsens@uci.edu

Abstract

Substantial evidence now documents sex-related influences on the neurobiology of emotional memory. Robust sex influences exist, for example, on the amygdala's role in emotional memory formation, as well as on retention of central information (gist) and detail for an emotional event. Evidence also suggests that the well-documented effects of stress hormones on memory depend upon sex hormone levels. Since hormonal contraception alters sex hormone levels, and must by extension alter sex/stress hormone interactions in memory, we examined whether the use of hormonal contraception also alters memory for an emotional story. Two groups of healthy female subjects--one naturally cycling, one using hormonal contraception--viewed either a brief, emotionally arousing story, or a closely matched, but more emotionally neutral story. Each subject's eye movements and pupil dilation changes were recorded as they viewed the story. Additionally, saliva samples were taken throughout the experimental session to examine salivary alpha-amylase, a biomarker for norepinephrine. A surprise free recall test one week later measured story memory in all subjects. Naturally cycling women exhibited enhanced memory of story details, but not of central information (gist), in the emotional compared with neutral story conditions. In contrast, women using hormonal contraception exhibited enhanced memory of gist, but not story details, in the emotional compared with neutral story conditions. Analysis of eye movements made while watching the stories indicated that the differences in memory could not be attributed either to a differential attention focus or to the degree of arousal induced by the stories in the two groups. These findings suggest that the use of hormonal contraception alters memory for an emotional event, perhaps by altering sex/stress hormone interactions in memory formation. They also suggest that further investigation of the mnemonic effects of these very widely used treatments is warranted.

Published by Elsevier Inc.

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