In-vivo Dynamics of the Human Hippocampus across the Menstrual Cycle


Sex hormones fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. Evidence from animal studies suggests similar subtle fluctuations in hippocampal structure, predominantly linked to estrogen. Hippocampal abnormalities have been observed in several neuropsychiatric pathologies with prominent sexual dimorphism. Yet, the potential impact of subtle sex-hormonal fluctuations on human hippocampal structure in health is unclear. We tested the feasibility of longitudinal neuroimaging in conjunction with rigorous menstrual cycle monitoring to evaluate potential changes in hippocampal microstructure associated with physiological sex-hormonal changes. Thirty longitudinal diffusion weighted imaging scans of a single healthy female subject were acquired across two full menstrual cycles. We calculated hippocampal fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure sensitive to changes in microstructural integrity, and investigated potential correlations with estrogen. We observed a significant positive correlation between FA values and estrogen in the hippocampus bilaterally, revealing a peak in FA closely paralleling ovulation. This exploratory, single-subject study demonstrates the feasibility of a longitudinal DWI scanning protocol across the menstrual cycle and is the first to link subtle endogenous hormonal fluctuations to changes in FA in vivo. In light of recent attempts to neurally phenotype single humans, our findings highlight menstrual cycle monitoring in parallel with highly sampled individual neuroimaging data to address fundamental questions about the dynamics of plasticity in the adult brain.

In Scientific Reports