Mitochondria play a central role in estrogen-induced neuroprotection

James W. Simpkins, Jian Wang, Xiaofei Wang, Evelyn Perez, Laszlo Prokai, James A. Dykens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Oxidative stress, bioenergetic impairment and mitochondrial failure have all been implicated in the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD) and Huntington's disease (HD), as well as retinal degeneration in glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa. Moreover, at least 75 debilitating, and often lethal, diseases are directly attributable to deletions or mutations in mitochondrial DNA, or in nuclear-encoded proteins destined for delivery to the mitochondria. Such widespread mitochondrial involvement in disease reflects the regulatory position mitochondrial failure plays in both acute necrotic cell death, and in the less catastrophic process of apoptosis. The potent feminizing hormone, 17 β-estradiol (E2), has shown cytoprotective activities in a host of cell and animal models of stroke, myocardial infarct and neurodegenerative diseases. The discovery that 17·α-estradiol, an isomer of E2, is equally as cytoprotective as E2 yet is >200-fold less active as a hormone, has permitted development of novel, more potent analogs where cytoprotection is independent of hormonal potency. Studies of structure-activity-relationships, glutathione interactions and mitochondrial function have led to a mechanistic model in which these steroidal phenols intercalate into cell membranes where they block lipid peroxidation reactions, and are in turn recycled via glutathione. Such a mechanism would be particularly germane in mitochondria where function is directly dependent on the impermeability of the inner membrane, and where glutathione levels are maintained at extraordinarily high 8-10mM concentrations. Indeed, the parental estrogens and novel analogs stabilize mitochondria under Ca2+ loading otherwise sufficient to collapse membrane potential. The cytoprotective and mitoprotective potencies for 14 of these analogs are significantly correlated, suggesting that these compounds prevent cell death in large measure by maintaining functionally intact mitochondria. This therapeutic strategy is germane not only to sudden mitochondrial failure in acute circumstances, such as during a stroke or myocardial infarction, but also to gradual mitochondrial dysfunction associated with chronic degenerative disorders such as AD, PD and HD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-83
Number of pages15
JournalCurrent Drug Targets: CNS and Neurological Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005


  • Apoptosis
  • Calcium homeostasis
  • Estrogens
  • Mitochondria
  • Mitochondrial membrane potential
  • Necrosis
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neuroprotection
  • Reactive oxygen species


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