Hormonal Sensitivity and Brain Function: Do Oral Contraceptives Distort Serotonergic Brain Signaling? (The Pill Project)

Evidence from National Health Registers in several countries has shown that starting on oral contraceptives is associated with an increased risk of developing depressive episodes. We do not know why this is, but changes in the internal communication in the brain via the serotonergic brain system might play a role. Intriguingly, we have found a lower level of the serotonin 4 receptor globally in the brain of healthy women using oral contraceptives compared to non-users, however this is a cross-sectional observation that cannot directly inform on causality. The difference between OC users and non-users is comparable to what we see in depressed individuals compared to healthy controls.

In The Pill Project we will apply a longitudinal study design to determine if starting on oral contraceptives induces a reduction in the serotonin 4 receptor in healthy women and whether such changes are related to changes in cognition as well as mood/affect and sexual desire.

The Pill Project is a single-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial with a 3-month intervention with either Femicept (2nd generation combined oral contraceptive) or placebo. Study participants will go through an investigation program before treatment start and during the third pill cycle. The investigation program includes brain scans with PET and MR techniques, neuropsychological testing, and daily self-report of psychological well-being during a menstrual/pill cycle.

We are currently recruiting healthy women 18-22 years of age. If you are interested in participating, please click here to know more.
The current enrollment status in the project is displayed below.