Menopausal hormone therapy and the female brain: leveraging neuroimaging and prescription registry data from the UK Biobank cohort


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Menopausal hormone therapy and the female brain: leveraging neuroimaging and prescription registry data from the UK Biobank cohort
Barth Claudia, Galea Liisa A.M., Jacobs Emily G., Lee Bonnie H., Westlye Lars T., de Lange Ann-Marie G.
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Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) is generally thought to be neuroprotective, yet results have been inconsistent. Here, we present a comprehensive study of MHT use and brain characteristics in middle- to older aged females from the UK Biobank, assessing detailed MHT data, APOE ε4 genotype, and tissue-specific gray (GM) and white matter (WM) brain age gap (BAG), as well as hippocampal and white matter hyperintensity (WMH) volumes.
A total of 19,846 females with magnetic resonance imaging data were included (current-users = 1,153, 60.1 ± 6.8 years; past-users = 6,681, 67.5 ± 6.2 years; never-users = 12,012, mean age 61.6 ± 7.1 years). For a sub-sample (n = 538), MHT prescription data was extracted from primary care records. Brain measures were derived from T1-, T2- and diffusion-weighted images. We fitted regression models to test for associations between the brain measures and MHT variables including user status, age at initiation, dosage and duration, formulation, route of administration, and type (i.e., bioidentical vs synthetic), as well as active ingredient (e.g., estradiol hemihydrate). We further tested for differences in brain measures among MHT users with and without a history of hysterectomy ± bilateral oophorectomy and examined associations by APOE ε4 status.
We found significantly higher GM and WM BAG (i.e., older brain age relative to chronological age) as well as smaller left and right hippocampus volumes in current MHT users, not past users, compared to never-users. Effects were modest, with the largest effect size indicating a group difference of 0.77 years (~9 months) for GM BAG. Among MHT users, we found no significant associations between age at MHT initiation and brain measures. Longer duration of use and older age at last use post menopause was associated with higher GM and WM BAG, larger WMH volume, and smaller left and right hippocampal volumes. MHT users with a history of hysterectomy ± bilateral oophorectomy showed lower GM BAG relative to MHT users without such history. Although we found smaller hippocampus volumes in carriers of two APOE ε4 alleles compared to non-carriers, we found no interactions with MHT variables. In the sub-sample with prescription data, we found no significant associations between detailed MHT variables and brain measures after adjusting for multiple comparisons.
Our results indicate that population-level associations between MHT use, and female brain health might vary depending on duration of use and past surgical history. Future research is crucial to establish causality, dissect interactions between menopause-related neurological changes and MHT use, and determine individual-level implications to advance precision medicine in female health care.
Create date
06/05/2024 12:55
Last modification date
07/05/2024 7:17
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