Dose-dependent effects of estrogen on prediction error related neural activity in the nucleus accumbens of healthy young women

  • Janine BayerEmail author
  • Tessa Rusch
  • Lei Zhang
  • Jan Gläscher
  • Tobias Sommer
Original Investigation



Whereas the effect of the sex steroid 17-beta-estradiol (E2) on dopaminergic (DA) transmission in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is well evidenced in female rats, studies in humans are inconsistent. Moreover, linear and inverted u-shaped dose response curves have been observed for E2’s effects on hippocampal plasticity, but the shape of dose response curves for E2’s effects on the NAc is much less characterized.


Investigation of dose response curves for E2’s effects on DA-related neural activity in the human NAc.


Placebo or E2 valerate in doses of 2, 4, 6 or 12 mg was orally administered to 125 naturally cycling young women during the low-hormone menstruation phase on two consecutive days using a randomized, double-blinded design. The E2 treatment regimen induced a wide range of E2 levels, from physiological (2- and 4-mg groups; equivalent to cycle peak) to supraphysiological levels (6- and 12-mg groups; equivalent to early pregnancy). This made it possible to study different dose response functions for E2’s effects on NAc activity. During E2 peak, participants performed a well-established reversal learning paradigm. We used trial-wise prediction errors (PE) estimated via a computational reinforcement learning model as a proxy for dopaminergic activity. Linear and quadratic regression analyses predicting PE-related NAc activity from salivary E2 levels were calculated.


There was a positive linear relationship between PE-associated NAc activity and salivary E2 increases.


The randomized, placebo-controlled elevation of E2 levels stimulates NAc activity in the human brain, likely mediated by dopaminergic processes.


Estrogen Reward Prediction error fMRI Ventral striatum 


Funding information

This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG SO 952/6-1). J.G. was funded by SFB TRR 169 ‘Crossmodal Learning’ and the Bernstein Award for Computational Neuroscience (BMBF grant 01GQ1003).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

213_2019_5409_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 1154 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Systems NeuroscienceUniversity Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Basic Psychological Research and Research MethodsUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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