Sex dimorphisms in the neuroprotective effects of estrogen in an animal model of Parkinson's disease

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 Jul;78(3):513-22. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2004.04.022.


The incidence of certain neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, appears to be more prevalent in men. Studies involving estrogen treatment of ovariectomised rodents attribute this largely to the neuroprotective effects of estrogen. However, a neuroprotective role for physiological levels of circulating hormones in males and females is less clear. Using the 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) model of Parkinson's disease to lesion the nigrostriatal dopaminergic (NSDA) pathway, we have shown that in females, endogenously produced estrogen is neuroprotective, whereas in males, gonadal factors increase striatal 6-OHDA toxicity. Intriguingly, estrogen, but not dihydrotestosterone, a nonaromatizable androgen, reversed the effects of orchidectomy on lesion size, raising the novel the hypothesis that enhanced male susceptibility may be attributable to the effects of endogenous testosterone only after its aromatization to estrogen. Thus, estrogen appears to exert opposite effects in the NSDA in males and females, being neuroprotective in females, but not in males, where it may even exacerbate neurodegenerative responses, with important implications for the clinical potential of estrogen-related compounds as neuroprotective agents. Preliminary experiments support the hypothesis that sex differences in the adult NSDA may result from the organisational actions of gonadal steroids during the critical neonatal period for the masculinization of the brain. Further studies are needed to determine whether this early organisation of a sexually differentiated neural circuitry may contribute to the emergence of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Oxidopamine
  • Parkinson Disease / prevention & control*
  • Rats
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Estrogens
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Oxidopamine