Belinda Pletzer and team have just launched a Frontiers research topic on the effects of hormonal contraceptives on the brain.
Oral contraceptives just celebrated their 60th anniversary and are used by 150 million women worldwide. Their primary function is to downregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis to suppress ovulation. Thus, their primary target is an important brain area. Yet so far, relatively little is known about the effects of hormonal contraceptives on the brain. This Research Topic seeks to collect original research articles on current data as well as review, mini review, perspective, or opinion articles on current views on how hormonal contraceptives may affect the brain. The goal is to provide an overview of the current state of contraceptive research on the brain.
First reports that the use of oral contraceptives might be associated with depressive symptoms date back to the 1960s. Nowadays several studies have shown that oral contraceptive use may result in improved and stabilized mood on the one hand, or depressive symptoms on the other hand. Yet it is still unclear which factors determine how a woman will react to OC treatment. Accordingly, more studies investigating the effects of hormonal contraceptives on various brain parameters are needed. Furthermore, it is crucial to consider how other types of hormonal contraceptives (patches, IUDs, etc.) may affect a woman’s mood.
Cognitive effects of oral contraceptives have been investigated by a number of studies, yielding inconsistent results due to mostly small sample sizes and a lack of control for the contraceptive formulation used. Thus, more well-powered studies are needed to determine, whether – apart from their emotional effects – oral contraceptives also affect cognitive measures. Again, studies assessing the neural correlates of such cognitive changes are even more crucial.
Importantly, many psychological studies on oral contraceptives use cross-sectional designs, comparing oral contraceptive users to naturally cycling women. Since these designs are prone to sampling bias, there is an urgent need for longitudinal study designs in this area.
Finally, while oral contraceptives are obviously a primarily human issue, this field of research and Research Topic would benefit from an integrative approach. Human neuroimaging studies can only provide macro-structural information while micro-structural changes (e.g. on neurogenesis, synaptogenesis or neurotransmitter systems) may be overlooked. Thus, targeted animal work on how the synthetic steroids contained in hormonal contraceptives affect the brain on a cellular and molecular level is much needed.
Since the most used form of hormonal contraceptives are oral contraceptives, all articles addressing the effects of oral contraceptives on neural, behavioral, or endocrinological measures are welcome. However, we are particularly interested in researchers submitting data and ideas on other types of hormonal contraceptives (patches, vaginal rings, IUDs).
Furthermore, we welcome animal researchers to submit their work on synthetic steroid actions on the brain. Since hormonal contraceptives do contain synthetic steroids, these works may lay the groundwork for future human neuroimaging studies.
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