The effect of age, sex and gender on the neurobiology of episodic memory: Midlife as a critical period in adulthood
Thursday, May 6, 2021 – 3:30 pm ET
Natasha Rajah, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University and the Director of the Brain Imaging Centre at the Douglas Research Centre, will be the guest speaker at the next Provost’s Lecture Series on Thursday, May 6. The lecture will be available on Zoom.
Rajah’s research program offers a unique window to the aging brain and mind, employing a lifespan approach by including participants beginning in midlife and into old age. Reflecting the novelty and importance of her research program, Rajah was recently awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant to uncover the overlapping and distinct neural correlates of high- versus low-performing individuals on both item-specific and contextual memory, as well as a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant focused on investigating the impact of sex, menopausal status and genetic risk for Alzheimer’s Disease in healthy middle-aged adults on the neural substrates of episodic memory. Rajah’s work has been published in top scientific journals including Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Cortex, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Cerebral Cortex, Psychology & Aging, and Neuroimage. In recognition of her research on cognitive aging, cognitive reserve and resilience, and cognitive and neural developmental trajectories beginning in midlife, she has been elected to the Memory Disorders Research Society and the International Society for Behavioral Neuroscience.
Abstract: Our ability to encode, store and retrieve past experiences in rich contextual details declines with age and can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Rajah will present work from the Montreal Adult Lifespan study that shows episodic memory decline and associated brain changes arise by early midlife (40-59 years old), and middle-aged adults with known risk factors for AD and/or a family history of AD show differences in memory-related brain function compared to those without. This work highlights how midlife is a critical period in adult development when the early signs of pathological aging may first emerge.
Midlife is also the time when most women experience menopause, which is associated with decreased levels of endogenous estrogen 17b-estradiol (E2). E2 receptors are densely localized in brain regions critical for memory function. Given that two-thirds of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease are women, it’s important to know whether women’s neurocognitive experiences during menopause may help identify sex-specific early markers of pathological aging, which can be used to identify women at risk and provide early access to care. She will close her talk by presenting preliminary findings from this project.