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Learn Mem. 2011 Nov 18;18(12):759-63. doi: 10.1101/lm.023267.111. Print 2011 Dec.

Progesterone at encoding predicts subsequent emotional memory.

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Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA.


Significant sex differences in the well-documented relationship between stress hormones and memory have emerged in recent studies. The potentiating effects of glucocorticoids on memory vary across the menstrual cycle, suggesting a potential interaction between these stress hormones and endogenously cycling sex hormones. Here, we show that memory for emotional materials changes significantly in accordance with hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle, suggesting that ovarian sex hormones influence the modulation of emotional memories. Sixty healthy, naturally cycling women rated 120 images on arousal and valence. One week later they completed free recall and recognition memory tests. Their menstrual cycle phases were estimated by self-report and confirmed by salivary assay of 17β-estradiol and progesterone. Memory for emotional items only was significantly better in the high hormone (luteal) phase compared with the low hormone (follicular) phase on the free recall test; on both tests memory correlated positively with progesterone collected at the time of encoding. These findings suggest that emotional memory performance changes across the menstrual cycle, and that this change is in part mediated by endogenous progesterone cycling.

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