Trajectories and phenotypes with estrogen exposures across the lifespan: What does Goldilocks have to do with it?

Stephanie V. Koebele, Heather Bimonte-Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


This article is part of a Special Issue "Estradiol and cognition". Estrogens impact the organization and activation of the mammalian brain in both sexes, with sex-specific critical windows. Throughout the female lifespan estrogens activate brain substrates previously organized by estrogens, and estrogens can induce non-transient brain and behavior changes into adulthood. Therefore, from early life through the transition to reproductive senescence and beyond, estrogens are potent modulators of the brain and behavior. Organizational, reorganizational, and activational hormone events likely impact the trajectory of brain profiles during aging. A "brain profile," or quantitative brain measurement for research purposes, is typically a snapshot in time, but in life a brain profile is anything but static - it is in flux, variable, and dynamic. Akin to this, the only thing continuous and consistent about hormone exposures across a female's lifespan is that they are noncontinuous and inconsistent, building and rebuilding on past exposures to create a present brain and behavioral landscape. Thus, hormone variation is especially rich in females, and is likely the destiny for maximal responsiveness in the female brain. The magnitude and direction of estrogenic effects on the brain and its functions depend on a myriad of factors; a "Goldilocks" phenomenon exists for estrogens, whereby if the timing, dose, and regimen for an individual are just right, markedly efficacious effects present. Data indicate that exogenously-administered estrogens can bestow beneficial cognitive effects in some circumstances, especially when initiated in a window of opportunity such as the menopause transition. Could it be that the age-related reduction in efficacy of estrogens reflects the closure of a late-in-life critical window occurring around the menopause transition? Information from classic and contemporary works studying organizational/activational estrogen actions, in combination with acknowledging the tendency for maximal responsiveness to cyclicity, will elucidate ways to extend sensitivity and efficacy into post-menopause.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-104
Number of pages19
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Activational
  • Aging
  • Brain
  • Development
  • Estrogen
  • Female
  • Hormones
  • Memory
  • Menopause
  • Organizational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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