Understanding the Brain's Response to Ovarian Hormones
Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D.,Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology
Mood disorders such as depression are more prevalent in women than in men, and often precipitated by stress. Studies have suggested that mood disorders may result in part from the effects of stress on the growth and survival of brain cells. Dr. Duman has studied how estrogen may play a role in mood disorders by influencing a major mechanism that sustains brain cells, including those important for mood.
Highlighted Study Findings
In this Ethel F. Donaghue Women’s Health Investigator Program-funded study, Dr. Duman examined the impact of estrogen on the expression of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) - a growth factor that helps support the survival of existing nerve cells, or neurons, and the growth of new nerve cells. His results demonstrated that estrogen influences the expression of BDNF, suggesting a route by which fluctuations of hormones could contribute to neurobiological dysfunction. Moreover, interactions between fluctuating hormones and stress could further compromise the functioning of neurons. These findings represented the beginnings of a foundation for developing strategies to counteract the effects of stress and hormone fluctuations on BDNF expression and neuronal functioning. Continued research and progress in this area will eventually lead to a more complete understanding of the cellular basis of the effects of hormones on mood.