Effects of sex, menstrual cycle phase, and endogenous hormones on cognition in schizophrenia

Leah H. Rubin, C. Sue Carter, Lauren L. Drogos, Hossein Pournajafi-Nazarloo, John A. Sweeney, Pauline M. Maki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: In women with schizophrenia, cognition has been shown to be enhanced following administration of hormone therapy or oxytocin. We examined how natural hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle influence cognition in women with schizophrenia. We hypothesized that female patients would perform worse on "female-dominant" tasks (verbal memory/fluency) and better on "male-dominant" tasks (visuospatial) during the early follicular phase (low estradiol and progesterone) compared to midluteal phase (high estradiol and progesterone) in relation to estradiol but not progesterone. METHODS: Fifty-four women (23 with schizophrenia) completed cognitive assessments and provided blood for sex steroid assays and oxytocin at early follicular (days 2-4) and midluteal (days 20-22) phases. Men were included to verify the expected pattern of sex differences on cognitive tests. RESULTS: Expected sex differences were observed on "female-dominant" and "male-dominant" tasks (p < 0.001), but the magnitude of those differences did not differ between patients and controls (p=0.44). Cognitive performance did not change across the menstrual cycle on "female-dominant" or "male-dominant" tasks in either group. Estradiol and progesterone levels were unrelated to cognitive performance. Oxytocin levels did not change across the menstrual cycle but were positively related to performance on "female-dominant" tasks in female patients only (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Sex differences in cognitive function are preserved in schizophrenia. Oxytocin levels do not change across the cycle, but relate to enhanced performance on female dominant tests in women. Physiological levels of oxytocin may thus have a more powerful benefit in some cognitive domains than estrogens in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-275
Number of pages7
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 2015


  • Cognition
  • Estrogen
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Oxytocin
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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