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Brain structures change during menstrual cycle

RIZOR, E. J. et al. bioRxiv. 2023 Regions of white matter activated by follicle-stimulating hormone (in blue) and progesterone (in red)RIZOR, E. J. et al. bioRxiv. 2023

Two independent studies have shown that in addition to other known symptoms, variations in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle can temporarily alter the structure of the brain. The first, by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, monitored 27 women during their menstrual cycle using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), finding that regions of the medial temporal lobe—which is associated with short-term memory and spatial perception—increase in volume in response to high levels of estradiol and low progesterone. Estradiol increases in the first half of the menstrual cycle and progesterone in the second. In another study that used MRI and involved 30 women, a group from the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, identified changes in the white matter—which is responsible for transferring information to the gray matter—when levels of 17β-estradiol and luteinizing hormone increased. Increased follicle-stimulating hormone before ovulation was associated with thicker gray matter. The meanings of these changes remain unclear (Nature, October 5; bioRxiv, October 10; ScienceAlert, October 19).