The "estrogen hypothesis" suggests that estrogen is a protective factor against psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Although the precise protective mechanisms are still unclear, one potential explanation lies in the role that increased estrogens play in mediating hippocampal plasticity, as this may reduce hippocampal dysconnectivity that is characteristically observed in psychosis. In support of this view, later age at menarche- less available estrogen during critical early adolescent development- is related to earlier onset of psychosis and increased symptom severity. Furthermore, if estrogens have protective effects, then we should see this effect in the psychosis risk period in those at clinical high-risk (CHR) for psychosis - i.e., individuals showing attenuated symptoms at imminent risk for transitioning to a psychotic diagnosis. This study examined whether earlier age at menarche would result in more normative hippocampal connectivity in CHR youth; menarche is an easily assessed, developmental marker associated with the availability of estrogens. Resting-state connectivity was examined in sixty female participants (26 CHR and 34 healthy control; age 12-21) using a cross-sectional approach; hippocampal connectivity was found to relate to age at menarche. Later age at menarche in the CHR group related to increased hippocampal dysconnectivity to the occipital cortex (a region with a neurotrophic response to estrogen) compared to the controls. Results suggest that earlier availability of estrogens may have neuroprotective effects on hippocampal plasticity. Findings have relevance for understanding sex differences and etiology, as well as guiding novel treatments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry