Menstrual Cycle Variations in Gray Matter Volume, White Matter Volume and Functional Connectivity: Critical Impact on Parietal Lobe

Timothy J. Meeker, Dieuwke S. Veldhuijzen, Michael L. Keaser, Rao P. Gullapalli, Joel D. Greenspan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of gonadal hormones in neural plasticity remains unclear. This study aimed to examine the effects of naturally fluctuating hormone levels over the menstrual cycle in healthy females. Gray matter, functional connectivity (FC) and white matter changes over the cycle were assessed by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), resting state fMRI, and structural MRIs, respectively, and associated with serum gonadal hormone levels. Moreover, electrocutaneous sensitivity was evaluated in 14 women in four phases of their menstrual cycle (menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal). Electrocutaneous sensitivity was greater during follicular compared to menstrual phase. Additionally, pain unpleasantness was lower in follicular phase than other phases while pain intensity ratings did not change over the cycle. Significant variations in cycle phase effects on gray matter volume were found in the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL) using voxel-based morphometry. Subsequent Freesurfer analysis revealed greater thickness of left IPL during the menstrual phase when compared to other phases. Also, white matter volume fluctuated across phases in left IPL. Blood estradiol was positively correlated with white matter volume both in left parietal cortex and whole cortex. Seed-driven FC between left IPL and right secondary visual cortex was enhanced during ovulatory phase. A seed placed in right IPL revealed enhanced FC between left and right IPL during the ovulatory phase. Additionally, we found that somatosensory cortical gray matter was thinner during follicular compared to menstrual phase. We discuss these results in the context of likely evolutionary pressures selecting for enhanced perceptual sensitivity across modalities specifically during ovulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number594588
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
StatePublished - Dec 22 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • cortical thickness
  • dorsal attention network
  • inferior parietal lobule
  • menstrual cycle
  • pain sensitivity
  • resting state functional connectivity
  • somatosensory sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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