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2017 Grants - Gervais
Sleep, Cognition, and Inflammation Following Natural or Surgical Menopause
Nicole Gervais, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
2017 Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellowship (AARF)
How does the loss of estrogen affect cognition in a high-risk Alzheimer’s population?
Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects women and emerging evidence suggests there may be unique biological and lifestyle factors that underlie these differences. A woman’s brain health, for example, may be affected more strongly than a man’s by the presence of APOE-e4, a gene variant linked to Alzheimer’s risk. Moreover, hormonal changes in women, especially the loss of estrogen, can also impact brain function. Loss of estrogen due to natural or surgical menopause has been associated with sleep disruption, higher levels of brain inflammation and cognitive impairment. More research is needed to better understand the complex ways these factors may interact to promote Alzheimer’s risk.
Nicole Gervais, Ph.D., and colleagues will study how the loss of estrogen due to natural or surgical menopause affects sleep, cognitive function, brain inflammation and brain structure. Surgical menopause occurs when women have their ovaries removed before natural menopause. In this study, the women in the surgical menopause group had their ovaries removed to reduce the risk of cancer associated with carrying the BRCA gene. The surgical and natural menopause groups will include women with and without hormone replacement therapy. The researchers will determine how hormone levels relate to sleep quality and levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. The participants will undergo brain imaging to measure changes in areas known to be important for memory function. In addition, the researchers will examine if women who carry the APOE-e4 risk gene show more significant changes in sleep quality, levels of inflammation and cognitive function.
The results of this work could shed new light on how hormones and genetics may interact to promote Alzheimer’s risk, possibly through effects on sleep and brain inflammation. A better understanding of these biological mechanisms could suggest ways to reduce risk, or develop targeted treatments to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.