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ILAR J. 2004;45(2):189-99.

Cognition, mood disorders, and sex hormones.

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Department of Pathology (Comparative Medicine), Wake Forest University, School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.


Macaques (Macaca spp.) are useful models to evaluate effects of ovarian sex steroids and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) on mood and cognitive function due to similarities to women in their reproductive and central nervous systems. The results of nonhuman primate studies support the hypothesis that estrogen mediates specific aspects of attention and memory, yet much work is needed to understand which cognitive processes are affected, whether natural versus surgical menopause effects are different, and the interaction of age and ovarian senescence on cognitive function. This knowledge is necessary to determine whether to support the cognitive function of women in the menopausal phase of life and, if so, to determine efficacious therapeutic interventions. Mood disorders are prevalent in women and are associated with reproductive function in women and macaques. Exogenous steroid therapies, including oral contraceptives and postmenopausal hormone replacement therapies, have behavioral effects in women and appear to affect the behavior and underlying neural substrates of monkeys. Additional research is necessary to confirm and extend these observations. Ovarian steroids have multiple effects on serotonin synthesis, reuptake, and degradation, on neural activity that drives serotonin release, and on receptor activation in primates. This system modulates cognitive function and mood and is the target of a broad class of antidepressant therapies. Understanding the effects of ovarian steroids on the neural serotonergic system is necessary to understand depression in women. These studies are best carried out in primate models, which are more similar to humans in neural serotonergic function than other animal models.

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