Differences in navigation performance and postpartal striatal volume associated with pregnancy in humans.

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Lisofsky, N. ; Wiener, J.M. ; de Condappa, Olivier ; Gallinat, J. ; Lindenberger, U. ; Kühn, S. (2016)
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2016.08.022
  • Subject: Estrogen | Striatum | sMRI | Pregnancy | Spatial learning strategies

The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link. Pregnancy is accompanied by prolonged exposure to high estrogen levels. Animal studies have shown that estrogen influences navigation strategies and, hence, affects navigation performance. High estrogen levels are related to increased use of hippocampal-based allocentric strategies and decreased use of striatal-based egocentric strategies. In humans, associations between hormonal shifts and navigation strategies are less well studied. This study compared 30 peripartal women (mean age 28 years) to an age-matched control group on allocentric versus egocentric navigation performance (measured in the last month of pregnancy) and gray matter volume (measured within two months after delivery). None of the women had a previous pregnancy before study participation. Relative to controls, pregnant women performed less well in the egocentric condition of the navigation task, but not the allocentric condition. A whole-brain group comparison revealed smaller left striatal volume (putamen) in the peripartal women. Across the two groups, left striatal volume was associated with superior egocentric over allocentric performance. Limited by the cross-sectional study design, the findings are a first indication that human pregnancy might be accompanied by structural brain changes in navigation-related neural systems and concomitant changes in navigation strategy.
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