JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Cognitive and neuroendocrine response to transdermal estrogen in postmenopausal women with Alzheimer's disease: results of a placebo-controlled, double-blind, pilot study

S Asthana, S Craft, L D Baker, M A Raskind, R S Birnbaum, C P Lofgreen, R C Veith, S R Plymate
Psychoneuroendocrinology 1999, 24 (6): 657-77
10399774
Preliminary evidence from clinical studies indicates that treatment with estrogen augments cognitive function for women with Alzheimer's disease (AD). The neurobiology of estrogen, particularly its neuromodulatory and neuroprotective actions, provide a viable basis to support such cognition-enhancing effects. We conducted a placebo-controlled, double-blind, parallel-group design pilot clinical study to evaluate the cognitive and neuroendocrine response to estrogen administration for postmenopausal women with AD. Twelve women with probably AD of mild-moderate severity completed the study. During an eight week treatment period, six women received 0.05 mg/day dosage of 17 beta-estradiol via a skin patch and the remaining six wore a placebo skin patch. Subjects were randomized to equal distribution, and evaluated at baseline, at weeks 1, 3, 5, and 8 on treatment, and at weeks 9, 10, 11, and 13 off treatment. On each day of evaluation, cognition was assessed using a battery of neuropsychological tests, and blood samples were collected to measure plasma concentrations of estradiol and estrone. In addition, several neuroendocrine markers were measured in plasma to evaluate the relationship between estrogen-induced cognitive effects and fluctuations in the catecholaminergic and insulin-like growth factor systems. Significant effects of estrogen treatment were observed on attention (i.e. Stroop: number of self-corrections in the Interference condition, F[1,8] = 8.22, P < 0.03) and verbal memory (i.e., Buschke: delayed cued recall, F[3,30] = 4.31, P < 0.02). The salutary effects of estrogen on cognition were observed after the first week of treatment, and started to diminish when treatment was terminated. For women treated with estrogen, enhancement in verbal memory was positively correlated with plasma levels of estradiol (r = 0.96, P < 0.02) and negatively correlated with concentrations of insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) in plasma (r = -0.92, P < 0.03). Furthermore, a trend in the data was evident to suggest a negative relationship between plasma levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and verbal memory (r = -0.86, P = 0.06). Estrogen administration suppressed peripheral markers of the IGF system, as evidenced by a negative correlation between plasma concentration of estradiol and IGF-1 (r = -0.93, P < 0.03), and a trend for a similar relationship between plasma levels of estradiol and IGFBP-3 (r = -0.86, P = 0.06). With respect to the catecholamines assayed, norepinephrine was positively correlated with verbal memory (r = 0.95, P < 0.02) for women who were treated with estrogen. Furthermore, there was a trend to suggest a negative relationship between plasma epinephrine levels and the number of errors committed on a test of attention (r = -0.84, P = 0.07). In the placebo group, no significant effects of estrogen replacement were evident either on measures of cognition or on any of the neuroendocrine markers. The results of this study suggest that estrogen replacement may enhance cognition for postmenopausal women with AD. Furthermore, several markers of neuroendocrine activity may serve to index the magnitude of estrogen-induced facilitation on cognition. In addition, research findings from the present study will provide important information for the design of larger prospective clinical studies that are essential to definitively establish the therapeutic role of estrogen replacement for postmenopausal women with AD.

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