Actions and interactions of estradiol and glucocorticoids in cognition and the brain: Implications for aging women.
CONTEXT The role of ovarian hormones in maintaining neuronal integrity and cognitive function is still debated. This study was undertaken to clarify the potential relationship between postmenopausal hormone use and the cholinergic system. OBJECTIVE We hypothesized that early initiated hormone therapy (HT) preserves the cholinergic system and that estrogen therapy (ET) would be associated with higher levels of acetylcholinesterase activity in the posterior cingulate cortex and hippocampus compared to estrogen plus progestin therapy (EPT) or no HT. DESIGN AND SETTING We conducted a cross-sectional study at a university teaching hospital. PATIENTS Fifty postmenopausal women (age, 65.2 ± 0.7 yr) with early long-term HT (n = 34; 13 ET and 21 EPT) or no HT (n = 16) participated in the study. INTERVENTIONS There were no interventions. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE We measured cholinergic activity (acetylcholinesterase) in the hippocampus and posterior cingulate brain regions as measured by N-[(11)C]methylpiperidin-4-yl propionate and positron emission tomography as a marker of cholinergic function. RESULTS Significant effects of treatment on cholinergic activity measures were obtained in the left hippocampus (F = 3.56; P = 0.04), right hippocampus (F = 3.42; P = 0.04), and posterior cingulate (F = 3.76; P = 0.03). No significant effects were observed in a cortical control region. Post hoc testing identified greater cholinergic activity in the EPT group compared to the no-HT group in the left hippocampus (P = 0.048) and posterior cingulate (P = 0.045), with a nonstatistically significant trend in the right hippocampus (P = 0.073). CONCLUSIONS A differential effect of postmenopausal ET and EPT on cholinergic neuronal integrity was identified in postmenopausal women. The findings are consistent with a preservation of cholinergic neuronal integrity in the EPT group.