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Oestrogens, brain function and neuropsychiatric disorders

Craig, Michael; Cutter, William; Norbury, Ray; Murphy, Declan

Current Opinion in Psychiatry: May 2004 - Volume 17 - Issue 3 - p 209-214
Neuropsychiatry

Purpose of review There are gender differences in cognitive function and in the prevalence of many neuropsychiatric disorders. The biological basis for this is still poorly understood but may be related to the effects of oestrogen on brain maturation and subsequent modulation of brain function in regions that are implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders. This review is timely and relevant, as recent studies have furthered our understanding into oestrogen's role in both maturation and functioning of brain areas and neurochemical systems involved in common neuropsychiatric disorders.

Recent findings This review begins by analysing the effects of oestrogen on brain function at the macroscopic, microscopic, functional, metabolic and neurotransmitter levels. This is followed by a summary of current opinion on the effects of oestrogen on specific neuropsychiatric disorders including Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and depression.

Summary Basic research indicates that oestrogen may effect brain maturation and subsequent modulation of brain function in regions that are implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders. The most robust effect of oestrogen on brain function is in the domain of cognitive function, especially verbal memory. Clinical research findings, however, do not at present suggest that oestrogen should be used as a first line treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders in clinical practice.

Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, UK

Correspondence to Dr Michael Craig, Lecturer in Psychiatry, Section of Brain Maturation, Department of Psychological Medicine, Room E209, PO50, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK Tel: +1 20 7848 0364; fax: +1 20 7848 0650; e-mail: m.craig@iop.kcl.ac.uk

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.