Cognition & Hormones

Cognitive problems, including difficulties with attention, memory, problem solving and decision making, are a central and problematic feature of many conditions.  Cognitive problems are often poorly characterised, poorly understood and poorly treated.  The Cognition and Hormones Group are focused on characterising cognition in a range of psychiatric and women’s health conditions, with a focus on understanding the link between sex hormones, stress and cognition.

The Cognition and Hormones Group use traditional neuropsychological testing, combined with eye tracking technology to clearly characterise cognition across diverse mental health and cognitive disorders including schizophrenia, depression and complex trauma disorders, as well as seeking to understand cognitive, mood and behaviour changes that can occur across the menstrual cycle and the menopause transition. Our Group researches biological and lifestyle factors that contribute to cognitive problems as well as cognitive health.

Group Head - A/Prof Caroline Gurvich

B.A/B.Sc (Hons); D.Psych; MAPS; FCCN

A/Prof Caroline GurvichA/Prof Caroline Gurvich combines neuropsychological assessments with eye movement research to clearly characterise cognition.  She has a particular interest in how hormones influence cognitive functioning in mental health and illness.

Find out more about A/Prof Caroline Gurvich

Featured Projects

Hormones and the Mind | Menopause and cognition | Cognition in schizophrenia | Stress

Title: Hormones and the Mind.

Investigators: A/Prof Caroline Gurvich; Dr Natalie Thomas (Melbourne University); Dr Elizabeth Thomas; Prof Jayashri Kulkarni;- Collaborations – Dr Shalini Arunogiri.

PhD candidate – Ms Paige Gray

Brief description: This longitudinal, observation study commenced in 2019 and tracks menstrual cycle, mood and cognition (including eye tracking) in healthy women and women with premenstrual mood disorders, including women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder.  Biological samples are collected to determine relationships between hormones and cognition and store samples for later genetic, epigenetic and proteomic analyses. We have commenced a collaboration with Dr Shalini Arunogiri who is leading the arm of this study investigating the link between menstrual cycle and alcohol use.

Current status:

This project is ongoing with honours students and PhD candidates involved in data collection and expanding this project further. Findings thus far have suggested that a measure of eye tracking, called peak saccadic eye velocity, has the potential to provide an objective marker of menstrual cycle phase, that is potentially sensitive to fluctuations in the hormone progesterone.

Recent publications from the Hormone and the Mind team:

Giddey, T., et al., Peak saccadic eye velocity across menstrual phases in naturally cycling women; A pilot study,. Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2020. 4.

Le, J., N. Thomas, and C. Gurvich, Cognition, The Menstrual Cycle, and Premenstrual Disorders: A Review. Brain Sci, 2020. 10(4).

Title: Sex hormones and cognition – focusing on 'brain fog' during menopause

Investigators: A/Prof Caroline Gurvich; Prof Jayashri Kulkarni.

Collaborators: Dr Natalie Thomas (University of Melbourne); Prof Martha Hickey (University of Melbourne); A/Prof Amanda Vincent (Monash Health); Dr Narelle Warren (Monash University)

PhD candidate: Ms Chen Zhu

Brief description: This research area seeks to better understand the perceived experience of menopausal ‘brain fog’ and characterise objective cognitive change across natural menopause transition, as well as during surgical menopause (for example in women who have their ovaries removed to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer).  Using eye tracking and biological analyses, we are also seeking to understand the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning cognitive changes.

Current status: This project is ongoing with honours students and PhD candidates involved in data collection.

Recent publications from menopause and cognition team:

Gurvich, C., Le, J., Thomas, N., Thomas, E. H. X., & Kulkarni, J. (2021). Sex hormones and cognition in aging. Vitam Horm, 115, 511-533.

Gurvich, C., Thomas, N., & Kulkarni, J. (2020). Sex differences in cognition and aging and the influence of sex hormones. Handb Clin Neurol, 175, 103-115.

Thomas, N., Gurvich, C., & Kulkarni, J. (2019). Sex Differences in Aging and Associated Biomarkers. Adv Exp Med Biol, 1178, 57-76.

Title: Cognition in schizophrenia

Investigators: A/Prof Caroline Gurvich; Prof Jayashri Kulkarni

Collaborators: Prof Susan Rossell (Swinburne University of Technology; Professor Brian Dean (Swinburne University and University of Melbourne); Dr Natalie Thomas (University of Melbourne)

Post-doctoral researcher: Dr Elizabeth Thomas

Funding: NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (2009 – 2016); NHMRC Project grant (Co-CI, awarded 2011 – 2013), Rebecca Cooper Project grant (2019 – 2021)

Brief description: This series of projects draws on biodatabanks I co-established during my NHRMC ECF (with Prof Rossell) as well as data from clinical trials with Prof Kulkarni.  The goal of this research is to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms underpinning cognitive deficits in schizophrenia with a focus on the role of reproductive hormones (such as estrogen, progesterone, luteinising hormone) and reproductive status (such as menstrual cycle regularity vs. irregularity and menopause status).

Current status: Findings thus far suggest that many women with schizophrenia have irregular menstrual cycles and this was associated with more difficulties on cognitive tasks that involve speed and memory.  Our clinical trial findings suggest that a hormone treatment called raloxifene (a selective estrogen receptor modulator) can help verbal cognitive skills in some women who are going through the menopause transition or are in early post menopausal years.

Recent publications from the cognition and schizophrenia team:

Gurvich, C., Hudaib, A., Gavrilidis, E., Worsley, R., Thomas, N., & Kulkarni, J. (2019, Feb). Raloxifene as a treatment for cognition in women with schizophrenia: the influence of menopause status. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 100, 113-119.

Thomas, E. H., Rossell, S. L., Tan, E. J., Neill, E., Van Rheenen, T. E., Carruthers, S. P., Sumner, P. J., Louise, S., Bozaoglu, K., & Gurvich, C. (2019, Mar). Do schizotypy dimensions reflect the symptoms of schizophrenia? Aust N Z J Psychiatry, 53(3), 236-247.

Thomas, E. H. X., Steffens, M., Harms, C., Rossell, S. L., Gurvich, C., & Ettinger, U. (2021, Jan). Schizotypy, neuroticism, and saccadic eye movements: New data and meta-analysis. Psychophysiology, 58(1), e13706.

Thomas, N., Gurvich, C., Hudaib, A. R., Gavrilidis, E., & Kulkarni, J. (2019, Oct). Dissecting the syndrome of schizophrenia: Associations between symptomatology and hormone levels in women with schizophrenia. Psychiatry Res, 280, 112510.

Toh, W. L., Gurvich, C., Thomas, N., Tan, E. J., Neill, E., Van Rheenen, T., Sumner, P. J., Carruthers, S. P., Thomas, E. H., Hughes, M. E., Michie, P. T., & Rossell, S. L. (2020, Feb). The influence of gender on emotional aspects of auditory verbal hallucinations. Psychiatry Res, 284, 112642.

Toh, W. L., Tan, E. J., Neill, E., Van Rheenen, T. E., Gurvich, C., Sumner, P. J., Carruthers, S. P., Thomas, E. H. X., & Rossell, S. L. (2020, Jun). Identifying the cognitive underpinnings of voice-hearing by comparing never, past and current voice-hearers. Acta Psychiatr Scand, 141(6), 553-562.

Yolland, C. O. B., Carruthers, S. P., Toh, W. L., Neill, E., Sumner, P. J., Thomas, E. H. X., Tan, E. J., Gurvich, C., Phillipou, A., Van Rheenen, T. E., & Rossell, S. L. (2020, Dec 21). The Relationship between Negative Symptoms and Both Emotion Management and Non-social Cognition in Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders. J Int Neuropsychol Soc, 1-13.

Title: Too stressed to think clearly? How adversity impacts our mental health and cognition

Investigators: A/Prof Caroline Gurvich; Prof Jayashri Kulkarni

Collaborators: Dr Kiymet Bozaoglu (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute); Prof Susan Rossell (Swinburne University); Dr Natalie Thomas (University of Melbourne); Prof Marco Romano-Silva (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Funding: AMREP Collaborative Seed Grant; Platform access grant (Monash); Barbara Dicker Foundation, Duration: 2016 - 2019

Brief description: Early life adversity and significant or uncontrollable stress can have a significant adverse impact on higher order cognitive functions and can drive the development and exacerbation of mental illness. The overall objective of this program of studies is to better understand how early life adversity as well as different stress parameters influences mental health, emotional regulation and cognition, with a focus on memory and higher order cognitive functions. A secondary objective is to explore the biological and psychological factors that contribute to the resilience some people have when exposed to stressful or traumatic events, for example through exploration of coping strategies. One arm of this research has examined coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent publications from the stress team:

Dobson, H., Malpas, C. B., Burrell, A. J., Gurvich, C., Chen, L., Kulkarni, J., & Winton-Brown, T. (2021, Feb). Burnout and psychological distress amongst Australian healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Australas Psychiatry, 29(1), 26-30.

Gurvich, C., Thomas, N., Thomas, E. H., Hudaib, A. R., Sood, L., Fabiatos, K., Sutton, K., Isaacs, A., Arunogiri, S., Sharp, G., & Kulkarni, J. (2020, Oct 4). Coping styles and mental health in response to societal changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Int J Soc Psychiatry, 20764020961790.

Thomas, N., Gurvich, C., Hudaib, A. R., Gavrilidis, E., & Kulkarni, J. (2019, Apr). Systematic review and meta-analysis of basal cortisol levels in Borderline Personality Disorder compared to non-psychiatric controls. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 102, 149-157.

Thomas, N., Gurvich, C., & Kulkarni, J. (2019). Borderline personality disorder, trauma, and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 15, 2601-2612.

Thomas, N., Hudaib, A. R., Romano-Silva, M., Bozaoglu, K., E, H. X. T., Rossell, S., Kulkarni, J., & Gurvich, C. (2020, Oct 4). Influence of cortisol awakening response on telomere length: Trends for males and females. Eur J Neurosci.