Gonadal Steroids and Cognition

  • P. A. Keenan
  • R. M. Soleymani
Part of the Critical Issues in Neuropsychology book series (CINP)


The classic definition of a hormone is a secretion of an endocrine gland that, released into the circulation, exerts its major influence on physiological responses at distant targets in the body. However, there is an intricate interplay between hormones and target areas within the brain as hormones modulate and are modulated by neurotransmitters. These hormone-brain-behavior interactions serve as the basis of the neuroendocrine system. The hormones relevant to this chapter are the gonadal steroid hormones: the estrogens, progestins, and androgens. Two dichotomies are frequently used to describe the effects of gonadal hormones on the brain and subsequent behavior: organizational-activational and genomic-nongenomic. Organizational effects refer to the effect the hormonal milieu during neurodevelop-ment has on sexual differentiation, or how the brain is organized. Such effects occur during critical periods of development and involve permanent structural changes in brain morphology. In contrast, activational effects are transient and alterations in neural circuitry during adulthood that induce time-limited structural and functional changes. Genomic and nongenomic effects refer to hormonal actions on individual nerve cells. They are indirect in that the hormones modulate messenger RNA and protein synthesis by controlling the number of receptor proteins and amount of neurotransmitter, neuropeptide, or neurohormone stored in the cell (Brown, 1994). Genomic effects that involve intracellular receptors take longer to occur and are much more enduring. In contrast, the more direct or nongenomic effects exert their influence briefly via cell surface receptors, for example, by altering the electrophysiological activity of the cell membrane (Brown, 1994).


Menstrual Cycle Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia Spatial Ability Estrogen Replacement Therapy Gonadal Steroid 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. A. Keenan
    • 1
  • R. M. Soleymani
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral NeurosciencesWayne State University School of Medicine, Harper HospitalDetroitUSA

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