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2017 Grants - Pelak
Functional and Structural Brain Changes With Testosterone Supplementation
Victoria S. Pelak, M.D.
University of Colorado Denver
2017 Sex and Gender in Alzheimer’s (SAGA) Grant
Is there an “optimal” level of testosterone that can promote healthy brain function and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in aging men and women?
Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease and emerging evidence suggests there may be unique biological and lifestyle factors that underlie these differences. Scientists are actively working to address gaps in our understanding of how biological sex and related genetic, lifestyle and societal factors may impact vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease. One such factor may be testosterone, which has been shown to play a role in maintaining nerve cell health as well as memory and other forms of cognitive function. Testosterone levels decline with age in both men and women, but women tend to lose testosterone much faster than men do, which may contribute to increased dementia risk. Some studies have shown positive effects of testosterone supplements on cognition in both men and women, while other studies indicate that too much testosterone can lead to cognitive problems. Thus, there appears to be an “optimal” level of testosterone that is most beneficial to brain health. This level, however, has not yet been identified.
In a previous study, Victoria S. Pelak, M.D., and colleagues studied magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of older men undergoing a 12-month regimen of different levels of testosterone supplements. The MRI scans were administered before and after the 12-month testosterone regimen and the men were also asked to perform a cognitive task that relies on brain regions vulnerable to damage in Alzheimer’s disease. For their current study, the researchers will analyze the MRI scans and cognitive data to determine which level of testosterone therapy was most beneficial to reducing brain cell loss and preventing cognitive decline over time.
If successful, this project could increase our understanding of how testosterone impacts brain health and help identify optimal levels of testosterone replacement as a potential therapy to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in both men and women.