Menopause age, reproductive span and hormone therapy duration predict the volume of medial temporal lobe brain structures in postmenopausal women

Jessica J. Steventon, Thomas M. Lancaster, Emily Simmonds Baker, Matthew Bracher-Smith, Valentina Escott-Price, Katherine S. Ruth, William Davies, Xavier Caseras, Kevin Murphy

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Medial temporal lobe (MTL) atrophy is correlated with risk and severity of Alzheimer disease (AD) pathology and cognitive decline. Increasing evidence suggest that oestrogens affect the aging of MTL structures. Here we investigate the relationship between reproductive hormone exposure, polygenic scores for AD risk and oestradiol concentration, MTL anatomy and cognitive performance in postmenopausal women. To this end, we used data from 10,924 female participants in the UK Biobank from whom brain MRI and genetic data were available. We fitted linear regression models to test whether the volume of structures comprising the MTL were predicted by a) timing related to menopause, b) the use and timing of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and c) polygenic scores for AD risk and oestradiol concentration. Results showed that longer use of HRT was associated with larger parahippocampal volumes (2.53 mm3/year, p = 0.042). A later age of natural menopause, and a longer reproductive span, was associated with larger hippocampal (6.08 and 5.72 mm3/year, p = 0.0006 and 0.0005), parahippocampal (4.17 mm3 and 4.19 mm3/year, p = 0.00006 and 0.00001), amygdala (2.10 and 2.22 mm3/year, p = 0.028 and 0.01) and perirhinal cortical (2.56 and 2.95 mm3/year, p = 0.028 and 0.008) volumes. Superior prospective memory performance was associated with later age at natural menopause, and a longer reproductive span (ß = 0.05 and 0.05 respectively, p = 0.019 and 0.019). Polygenic scores for AD risk and for oestradiol concentration were not associated with MTL volume and did not interact with menopause-related factors to affect MTL structure. Our results suggest that HRT use did not have any detrimental effects on cognition or brain structure, whilst greater exposure to reproductive hormones across time is associated both with slightly larger volumes of specific MTL structures and marginally superior memory performance, independent of genetic risk for AD and genetic predisposition for higher oestradiol levels. However, the clinical utility of maintenance of oestrogens post-menopause for brain health and protection against cognitive decline is curtailed by the small effect sizes observed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106393
Early online date18 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust [ WT200804, WT224267 ]. For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.


  • Alzheimer
  • Dementia
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Imaging
  • Menopause
  • Oestrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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