Estrogens are gonadal steroid hormones that are present in the circulation of both males and females and that can no longer be considered within the strict confines of reproductive function. In fact, the bone, the cardiovascular system, and extrahypothalamic regions of the brain are now well-established targets of estrogens. Among the numerous aspects of brain function regulated by estrogens are their effects on mood, cognitive function, and neuronal viability. Here, we review the supporting evidence for estrogens as neuroprotective agents and summarize the various mechanisms that may be involved in this effect, focusing particularly on the mitochondria as an important target. On the basis of this evidence, we discuss the clinical applicability of estrogens in treating various age-related disorders, including Alzheimer disease and stroke, and identify the caveats that must be considered.
- Signaling pathways