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Studying estrogens made by the brain may offer new insights in learning and memory
Date:7/21/2014

AMHERST, Mass. New studies being launched by neurobiologist Luke Remage-Healey at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will investigate how estrogens produced in the brains of young birds enhance their ability to learn songs during a critical window during development. This period has a parallel to universal language development in human children.

In a separate study, the UMass Amherst neuroscientist and colleagues will explore the idea that estrogens produced in the brain's auditory cortex enhances the representation of sounds in adults, and how these changes are transmitted to other, sensorimotor parts of the brain. This work in zebra finches is supported by two grants, one from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for $640,000 over four years, another from the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for $1.7 million over five years.

Remage-Healey's recent findings are among the first to support the idea that estrogens are not exclusively reproductive hormones, but are in fact also made in the brain like neurotransmitters, where they play a powerful role in cognition, learning and memory.

He says, "There are parts of the human brain important to speech and language, and the songbird brain has analogous regions in the auditory cortex and sensorimotor cortex. We now have a great map to figure out how neural signals propagate from one area to another. Experimentally, we can record how estrogens shape these signals and their propagation. By directly manipulating these pathways we hope to identify key molecular mechanisms and behavioral consequences."

Results of this work could be helpful in understanding human neurobiology, he adds, because a number of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and epilepsy, for example, are linked to steroid synthesis in the brain. Researchers are beginning to explore whether brain estrogens might represent a new, far more targeted treatme
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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