Document Type




First Advisor's Name

Ophelia I. Weeks

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Lidia Kos

Third Advisor's Name

M. Alejandro Barbieri

Fourth Advisor's Name

Robert Lickliter

Fifth Advisor's Name

Thomas K. Harris


estrogen, lithium, brain, learning, memory, neurodegeneration

Date of Defense



Learning and memory in adult females decline during menopause and estrogen replacement therapy is commonly prescribed during menopause. Post-menopausal women tend to suffer from depression and are prescribed antidepressants – in addition to hormone therapy. Estrogen replacement therapy is a topic that engenders debate since several studies contradict its efficacy as a palliative therapy for cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. Signaling transduction pathways can alter brain cell activity, survival, and morphology by facilitating transcription factor DNA binding and protein production. The steroidal hormone estrogen and the anti-depressant drug lithium interact through these signaling transduction pathways facilitating transcription factor activation. The paucity of data on how combined hormones and antidepressants interact in regulating gene expression led me to hypothesize that in primary mixed brain cell cultures, combined 17beta-estradiol (E2) and lithium chloride (LiCl) (E2/LiCl) will alter genetic expression of markers involved in synaptic plasticity and neuroprotection. Results from these studies indicated that a 48 h treatment of E2/LiCl reduced glutamate receptor subunit genetic expression, but increased neurotrophic factor and estrogen receptor genetic expression. Combined treatment also failed to protect brain cell cultures from glutamate excitotoxicity. If lithium facilitates protein signaling pathways mediated by estrogen, can lithium alone serve as a palliative treatment for post-menopause? This question led me to hypothesize that in estrogen-deficient mice, lithium alone will increase episodic memory (tested via object recognition), and enhance expression in the brain of factors involved in anti-apoptosis, learning and memory. I used bilaterally ovariectomized (bOVX) C57BL/6J mice treated with LiCl for one month. Results indicated that LiCl-treated bOVX mice increased performance in object recognition compared with non-treated bOVX. Increased performance in LiCl-treated bOVX mice coincided with augmented genetic and protein expression in the brain. Understanding the molecular pathways of estrogen will assist in identifying a palliative therapy for menopause-related dementia, and lithium may serve this purpose by acting as a selective estrogen-mediated signaling modulator.





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