Perimenopause is a period of high risk for mood disorders, and it has been proposed that perimenopause is also a window of risk for processes linked to later dementia. However, in human perimenopause, the neurobiological changes implicated in the genesis of mood disorders or dementia have not been identified. Monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) is an important brain enzyme that creates oxidative stress, influences apoptosis, and metabolizes monoamines. After declines in estrogen level, MAO-A density may be elevated for a month or longer, and repeated declines in estrogen level occur with greater magnitude during perimenopause.
To investigate whether MAO-A total distribution volume (VT), an index of MAO-A density, is elevated in women of perimenopausal age (41-51 years).
Design, Setting, and Participants
In a cross-sectional study at a tertiary care psychiatric hospital, 58 women underwent carbon 11–labeled harmine positron emission tomography. These included 19 young women of reproductive age (mean [SD], 28.26 [5.05] years), 27 women of perimenopausal age (mean [SD] age, 45.21 [3.41] years; including 14 women with change in menstrual cycle length with a mean [SD] age of 45.50 [4.00] years and 13 women with no change in menstrual cycle length with a mean [SD] age of 44.92 [2.81] years), and 12 women in menopause (mean [SD] age, 56.25 [3.19] years).
Main Outcomes and Measures
Values of MAO-A VT in the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsal striatum, ventral striatum, thalamus, hippocampus, and midbrain.
On average, MAO-A VT in perimenopausal age was elevated by 34% compared with reproductive age and by 16% compared with menopause (multivariate analysis of variance, group effect, F16,94 = 3.03; P < .001). Within the perimenopausal age group, meeting Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop criteria for perimenopause, which is mainly based on menstrual cycle length, was not associated with MAO-A VT (F8,18 = 0.548; P = .81) but tendency to cry was positively correlated with MAO-A VT in the prefrontal cortex (r = 0.54; P = .008).
Conclusions and Relevance
To our knowledge, this is the first report of a change in a central biomarker during perimenopausal age that is also present during major depressive episodes and high-risk states for major depressive episodes. The functions of MAO-A influence oxidative stress and apoptosis, 2 processes implicated as excessive in both mood disorders and dementia. Hence, greater MAO-A VT during perimenopause may represent a new target for assessing novel interventions to prevent mood disorders and reduce longer-term risk of neurodegenerative disease.