According to conventional medicine, uterus plays a big role in supporting a fetus during pregnancy, but otherwise is dormant. A study in rats, funded by NIA, shows quite the contrary, suggesting that the uterus may affect functions of the brain like memory and learning. The results were published in Jan.1 in Endocrinology.
Researchers at the Arizona State University, Tempe, have conducted a study where female rats received one of four types of surgery: removal of the ovaries, removal of the uterus, and removal of both ovaries and uterus, or a sham surgery that left the reproductive organs in place. The rats were tested six weeks after surgery by a water maze that was supposed to assess their ability to navigate space under certain conditions. Both groups had no difficulties in learning spatial landmark locations in the maze, but when the landmarks were removed successively, rats that had the uterus removed performed a lot worse than rats in the other three groups in finding the remaining landmarks. After a time delay, rats performed the same in all four groups, which indicated how well they retained memory about the locations of the landmarks in the maze.
The hormone profile of the rats was also evaluated by the researchers. The rats that had only the uterus removed had different hormone levels than rats that had both the uterus and ovaries left in place. The results of the experiments suggested that the brain was affected in rats that had the uterus removed, and especially spatial working memory was affected maybe due to hormonal change.
How hysterectomy-induced activity of hormones affects brain functions such as memory is not well understood and requires further study, according to researchers. This area of research is important for the identification of the form and timing of hysterectomy, which is a commonly performed surgery in one of three U.S women by age 60. This operation is usually conducted on women before they reach natural menopause, which affects the activity of hormones in the reproductive organs, and in most cases, the uterus is removed along with the ovaries.
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