Estrogen & the Brain

What is estrogen?

Estrogen is any of a group of steroid hormones that promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics in the body. Estrogens are the primary female sex hormones, which distinguish a girl from a boy in the brain.

How does estrogen affect the brain?

Estrogen directly influences brain function through estrogen receptors located on neurons in multiple areas of the brain.[1,2 ]The hormone also appears to have direct membrane-mediated effects on neurons. Its effects are both neuroprotective and neurotrophic.

Estrogen stimulates production of nerve growth factors, thereby promoting neuronal growth and viability, repair of damaged neurons, and dendritic branching.

At neuronal synapses, estrogen increases the concentration of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.[4] It affects their release, reuptake, and enzymatic inactivation. It also increases the number of receptors’ for these neurotransmitters.[2] This means that estrogen levels may very well affect cognition.

How does estrogen influence autism in the brain?

In general, estrogen is a highly under-studied area in brain research, particularly when it comes to autism, which makes researching its affects critical now more than ever.

Autism occurs 4 times more in boys than girls, which tells us that girls have some sort of protective factor against the disorder. Since estrogen is the primary female sex hormone that distinguishes them from males, investigating the role estrogen plays in brain development is of great importance, because estrogen could potentially reverse autism-like symptoms.

To put it simply — Estrogen may boost the number of connections between brain cells, improving communication in the brain: a social trait that is highly challenged in individuals who have autism.

Mimicking estrogen’s effects on the brain might lead to treatments, or ways to curb the challenging symptoms that people with autism have everyday.

theautismresearchfoundationEstrogen & the Brain