Role of neuroendocrine pathways in cognitive decline during aging

Ettore Ferrari, Flavia Magri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pineal and pituitary-adrenocortical secretions play an important role in adaptive responses of the organism acting as coordinating signals for both several biological rhythms and multiple neuroendocrine and metabolic functions. The more relevant neuroendocrine changes occurring with ageing affect the secretion of melatonin and of corticosteroids. These changes may be clearly appreciated by the study of their circadian rhythmicity. The circadian profile of plasma melatonin was clearly flattened in elderly subjects and even more in old individuals with dementia. Indeed, the impairment of melatonin signal occurring in aging was related either to age itself or to the cognitive performances of subjects. The biosynthetic dissociation between glucocorticoids and androgen secretion is responsible for the selective impairment of androgens, such as DHEA and DHEA-S, by comparison to cortisol. Due to the opposite effects of the two kinds of corticosteroids either in the periphery and in the CNS, the imbalance between glucocorticoids and androgens, well demonstrated by the evaluation of the cortisol/DHEA-S molar ratio, may be responsible for the occurrence in the CNS of a more neurotoxic steroidal milieu, already present in clinically healthy elderly subjects and especially in patients with dementia. The effects of that steroidal milieu are more prominent at the level of the hippocampal-limbic structure, involved both in the modulation of endocrine structures, such as the HPA axis, and in the control of cognitive, behavioral and affective functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-233
Number of pages9
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


  • Aging
  • Circadian rhythms
  • HPA axis
  • Melatonin
  • Senile dementia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Biochemistry

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