What Causes ‘Chemo Brain’ in Women?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Nicole J. Gervais, Ph.D. Postdoctoral fellow | Einstein lab University of Toronto, Department of Psychology Toronto, ON

Dr. Gervais

Nicole J. Gervais, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral fellow | Einstein lab
University of Toronto, Department of Psychology
Toronto, ON 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?  

Response: Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) including letrozole are given as an adjuvant therapy for postmenopausal women with hormone receptor positive breast cancer. Women taking this drug have reported a number of symptoms including hot flashes, memory complaints and mood changes. However, not all studies report memory issues. This might be due to the fact that studies in this population are hampered by confounds, such as chemotherapy/radiotherapy, stress and disease stage, all of which can also adversely impact memory. These confounds make it challenging to observe the independent effects of AIs on memory. By using a non-human primate model, we were able to examine the effects of aromatase inhibition on these symptoms as well as brain function without these confounding effects.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? 

Response: Our study confirmed the reported side effects and further showed that AIs can adversely affect the functioning of the hippocampus, a brain structure important for memory. We also showed that thermoregulation (process implicated in hot flashes) is adversely affected by AIs in females, but not males. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: Aromatase inhibitors can have adverse effects on the brain, but are still part of a life-saving treatment regimen. To facilitate the development of new therapeutic options for mitigating against breast cancer recurrence, we need to focus our attention to understand how AIs adversely impact the brain and in particular the hippocampus. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: In addition to addressing how AIs adversely affect the brain (and in particular the hippocampus), future studies are needed to further explore whether men and women experience different symptoms from AI use. We also need to ascertain whether AI use has long lasting effects. For instance, are these adverse effects permanent, or can the brain recover after the drug treatment ends?    


Adverse effects of aromatase inhibition on the brain and behavior in a non-human primate

Nicole J. Gervais, Luke Remage-Healey, Joseph R. Starrett, Daniel J. Pollak, Jessica A.Mong, Agnès Lacreuse

Journal of Neuroscience 26 December 2018, 0353-18; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0353-18.2018



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