Monash University research shows that testosterone treatment improves brain function in healthy postmenopausal women.
Professor Susan Davis and Dr Sonia Davison of the Monash University Women's Health Program treated 10 women aged 45 to 60 years with a daily skin spray of testosterone for 6 months. The women showed improvements in visual and verbal learning and memory on sensitive computerised tests after treatment. They also underwent tests of brain function while undergoing an MRI scan.
The findings were presented at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) meeting in San Diego this month.
The tests of cognitive performance were completed with the same accuracy and speed by the women before and with treatment, but with testosterone treatment less of the brain areas involved with these tasks 'lit up'. This indicates that that less brain activation was required for the women to complete the tasks with the same precision and accuracy when they were treated with testosterone, Professor Davis said.
Statistics show postmenopausal women suffer dementia and memory loss at twice the rate of men and researchers believe lower levels of testosterone in post menopausal women may be a contributing factor. The rate of dementia is expected to increase over the next decade, as the population of over-45 year old Australian women increases by a third to an estimated 5.5 million. (In 2004, there were approximately 3.8 million women aged over 45).
Testosterone production in women declines with age so that levels in postmenopausal women are usually about half of those in younger women. There are no current treatments available to improve brain function or memory, and the results of this study support the hypothesis that testosterone may be a potential treatment to prevent the age-related decline in brain function, Professor Davis said.
The brain is filled with testosterone receptors but no-one really understands the role of testosterone in the brain. We suspect there could be a strong correlation between low testosterone levels and a decline in female brain function, as has been observed in men, and our findings support the need for further research into the potential use of testosterone for prevention of deterioration in brain function and memory.
Dr Davison said the transdermal testosterone spray was a remarkable new development in itself because it was a novel and effective way of delivering hormone therapy and is quick and easy to apply. The spray creates a patch within the skin when applied and unlike hormonal patches, rarely causes any skin irritation.
Understanding the impact of testosterone on learning and memory, is yet another step towards developing therapies to prevent cognitive decline which is a condition impacting on the lifestyles of tens of thousands of women across Australia, Dr Davison said.
Postmenopausal women who may be interested in participating in further studies of brain function and memory can contact the Women's Health Program team located at the Alfred Hospital, on +61 3 9903 0827 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The study was funded by NHMRC of Australia, a Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation Research Fellowship and ACRUX Ltd Australia, manufacturers of the Testosterone MDTS.