Impact of Reproductive Aging on the Brain

Over the last quarter century, a staggering number of cognitive neuroscience studies have probed the neural basis of age-related cognitive decline (Fig 1A-B). This research focuses predominantly on adults over the age of 65, overlooking one of the most significant neuroendocrine changes in a woman’s life – menopause.

The menopausal transition is marked by a decline in the production of sex steroid hormones – up to 90% in the case of 17ß-estradiol (Fig 1C). For many women, this pronounced endocrine change is accompanied by changes in memory and attention, or “menopause fog”. The influence of sex and sex hormones on the aging brain is severely understudied, despite a female-skewed prevalence in Alzheimer’s disease and sex differences in the rate of disease progression.

For women, 1/3rd of our lives will be spent in the post-reproductive years, yet we have limited knowledge about how the decline in ovarian hormone production shapes the brain during this transitional period and the years that follow. We launched the “Healthy Midlife Aging Study” at UCSB’s Brain Imaging Center to investigate cognitive function and associated neurophysiological activity of the brain in women and men during this uncharted decade.

This work is supported by the University of California Regents, the Hellman Foundation, and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. 

Learn More: 

Taylor C., Pritschet L., Yu S., Jacobs E.G. (2019) Applying a women’s health lens to the study of the aging brain.Frontiers in Human Neuroscience doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00224

Jacobs E.G. (2020) Why neuroscience needs girls: Gender diversity drives scientific discovery. Frontiers for Young Minds 8:37. doi:10.3389/frym.2020.00037

Jacobs E.G. and Goldstein J.M. (2018) The Middle-Aged Brain: Biological sex and sex hormones shape memory circuitry Current Opinions in Behavioral Science 23:84–91 doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2018.03.009

Jacobs E.G., Weiss B., Makris N., Whitfield-Gabrieli S., Buka S., Klibanski A., Goldstein J.M. (2016) Impact of sex and menopausal status on episodic memory circuitry in early midlife. The Journal of Neuroscience36(39):10163-10173 PMCID: PMC5039260 (Featured in JNeurosci Highlights)

Jacobs E.G., Weiss B., Makris N., Whitfield-Gabrieli S., Buka S., Klibanski A., Goldstein J.M. (2017) Reorganization of functional networks in verbal working memory circuitry in early midlife: The impact of sex and menopausal status. Cerebral Cortex 27(5):2857-2870. PMID: 27178194.

Rentz D.M., Weiss B., Jacobs E.G., et al. (2016) Sex differences in episodic memory in early midlife: Impact of reproductive aging. Menopause. 24(4). doi: 10.1097