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The impact of sex hormones on reward sensitivity in women

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Maier,  Carolin Annette
International Max Planck Research School on Neuroscience of Communication: Function, Structure, and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical School, University of Tuebingen, Germany;

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Sacher,  Julia
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Clinic of Cognitive Neurology, University of Leipzig, Germany;

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Citation

Maier, C. A., Pooseh, S., Kroemer, N. B., Sacher, J., & Derntl, B. (2018). The impact of sex hormones on reward sensitivity in women. Poster presented at Matariki Winter School "Sex Hormones and the Brain", Tuebingen, Germany.


Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-C4CA-B
Abstract
Oral contraceptives (OCs) are the most commonly used method to prevent pregnancy with 200 to 300 million users worldwide (United Nation, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015). Given recent alarming reports suggesting an association of depression with hormonal contraception (Skovlund et al., 2016), a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying this substantial psychological impact of synthetic sex hormone administration in young women is of critical interest. Accumulating evidence suggests that depressive symptoms are associated with major alterations within the brain’s reward sensitivity circuitry (Macoveanu et al., 2016; Russo & Nestler, 2013), which normally serves to guide our attention towards consumption of rewards. Endogenous sex hormones, i.e. hormones naturally fluctuating across the menstrual cycle, have been shown to significantly influence reward sensitivity: in particular fluctuating levels of estrogen (e.g., Smith et al., 2014). However, the impact of synthetic sex hormones, i.e. OCs, on reward sensitivity remains unclear. Because OCs introduce synthetic hormones and modulate the internal hormone production, an influence of OCs on women’s reward sensitivity is likely. Based on previous findings, we expect women taking combined OCs (n = 30) to show enhanced reward sensitivity compared to women not using OCs (n = 30). This hypothesis is tested on a behavioural level using a cross-sectional design: naturally cycling women are assessed during their periovulatory phase, i.e. when estrogen levels are high; in OC-taking women, estrogen levels will be down-regulated and thus, constantly low. T o assess reward sensitivity, we use a delay discounting paradigm with an adaptive Bayesian approach (Pooseh et al., 2017). Additionally, participants complete self-report questionnaires on impulsivity, personality traits, and women’s health. First behavioural results of discounting rates will be presented together with a systematic overview of the status quo of research investigating the impact of sex hormones on reward sensitivity in women.