"Although estrogen is known to play a significant role in learning and memory, there has been no clear consensus on its effect," says senior author Wayne Brake, an associate professor at Concordia's Center for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology. "Our findings, using a well-established model of learning called latent inhibition, shows conclusively that high estrogen levels inhibit the cognitive ability in female rodents."Findings in this study resulted from experiments on the latent inhibition of rats. Latent inhibition is a term derived from Classical conditioning. It occurs when a subject takes longer to give meaning to a stimulus that had no previous significance than it would when associated with a new stimulus. It is a natural tendency to disregard or inhibit forming a memory by preventing associative learning of a stimulus with no associated consequence. It is an unconscious response and presumed to prevent sensory overload. “Latent inhibition is observed in many species, and is believed to be an integral part of learning, enabling an organism to interact successfully in an environment.”
The research team discovered that estrogen has a direct effect on the brain. In their experiment, rats were repeatedly exposed to a specific tone that had no consequence linked to it. After some exposure rats began ignoring the tone because they were used to it. The researchers then linked the tone with a different stimulus. Results showed that rats with higher levels of estrogen took much longer to form the association than rats with low levels of estrogen.
"We only observed this effect in adult female rats," says Brake. "This and our other findings indicate that estrogen directly effects the brain, perhaps by interfering with brain signaling molecules. Our study helps clear up the controversy about the effects of estrogen, the next step is to look at how this occurs."Can't Focus? Maybe It's the Wrong Time of Month, Finds Estrogen Study on Attention and Learning
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