Two classes of ovarian steroids, estrogens and progestins, are potent in protecting neurons against acute toxic events as well as chronic neurodegeneration. Herein we review the evidence for neuroprotection by both classes of steroids, provide plausible mechanisms for these potent neuroprotective activities and indicate the need for further clinical trials of both estrogens and progestins in protection against acute and chronic conditions that cause neuronal death. Estrogens at concentrations ranging from physiological to pharmacological are neuroprotective in a variety of in vitro and in vivo models of cerebral ischemia and brain trauma as well as in reducing key neuropathologies of Alzheimer's disease. While the mechanisms of this potent neuroprotection are currently unresolved, a mitochondrial mechanism is involved. Progestins have been recently shown to activate many of the signaling pathways used by estrogens to neuroprotect, and progestins have been shown to protect against neuronal loss in vitro and in vivo in a variety of models of acute insult. Collectively, results of these animal and tissue culture models suggest that the loss of both estrogens and progestins at the menopause makes the brain more vulnerable to acute insults and chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Further clinical assessment of appropriate regimens of estrogens, progestins and their combination are supported by these data.
- Alzheimer's disease
- Estrogen receptor