Neuroprotection by estradiol

Prog Neurobiol. 2001 Jan;63(1):29-60. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(00)00025-3.


This review highlights recent evidence from clinical and basic science studies supporting a role for estrogen in neuroprotection. Accumulated clinical evidence suggests that estrogen exposure decreases the risk and delays the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia, and may also enhance recovery from traumatic neurological injury such as stroke. Recent basic science studies show that not only does exogenous estradiol decrease the response to various forms of insult, but the brain itself upregulates both estrogen synthesis and estrogen receptor expression at sites of injury. Thus, our view of the role of estrogen in neural function must be broadened to include not only its function in neuroendocrine regulation and reproductive behaviors, but also to include a direct protective role in response to degenerative disease or injury. Estrogen may play this protective role through several routes. Key among these are estrogen dependent alterations in cell survival, axonal sprouting, regenerative responses, enhanced synaptic transmission and enhanced neurogenesis. Some of the mechanisms underlying these effects are independent of the classically defined nuclear estrogen receptors and involve unidentified membrane receptors, direct modulation of neurotransmitter receptor function, or the known anti-oxidant activities of estrogen. Other neuroprotective effects of estrogen do depend on the classical nuclear estrogen receptor, through which estrogen alters expression of estrogen responsive genes that play a role in apoptosis, axonal regeneration, or general trophic support. Yet another possibility is that estrogen receptors in the membrane or cytoplasm alter phosphorylation cascades through direct interactions with protein kinases or that estrogen receptor signaling may converge with signaling by other trophic molecules to confer resistance to injury. Although there is clear evidence that estradiol exposure can be deleterious to some neuronal populations, the potential clinical benefits of estrogen treatment for enhancing cognitive function may outweigh the associated central and peripheral risks. Exciting and important avenues for future investigation into the protective effects of estrogen include the optimal ligand and doses that can be used clinically to confer benefit without undue risk, modulation of neurotrophin and neurotrophin receptor expression, interaction of estrogen with regulated cofactors and coactivators that couple estrogen receptors to basal transcriptional machinery, interactions of estrogen with other survival and regeneration promoting factors, potential estrogenic effects on neuronal replenishment, and modulation of phenotypic choices by neural stem cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Neuroprotective Agents / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenic Psychology


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Estradiol