Are estrogens protective or risk factors in brain injury and neurodegeneration? Reevaluation after the Women's health initiative

Endocr Rev. 2005 May;26(3):308-12. doi: 10.1210/er.2004-0014. Epub 2005 Apr 25.


Estrogens are essential for normal reproductive function. In addition, they exert important, complex, and diverse nonreproductive actions on multiple tissues. Although accumulating evidence from basic science studies using animal models suggests that estradiol plays a critical neuroprotective role against multiple types of neurodegenerative diseases and injuries, recent clinical studies have reported either inconclusive or untoward effects of hormone therapy on the brain. We focus herein on the work that we have done during the past 6 yr that strongly suggests that low levels of estradiol therapy exert dramatic protective actions in the adult injured brain. Our results reveal that 17beta-estradiol slows the progression of this injury and diminishes the extent of cell death by suppressing apoptotic cell death pathways and enhancing expression of genes that optimize cell survival. Furthermore, we have found that estrogen receptors play a pivotal functional role in neuroprotection. Together, these results carry broad implications for the selective targeting of estrogen receptors in the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions resulting from disease or injury, particularly for aging, postmenopausal women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Estradiol / adverse effects
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy / standards*
  • Female
  • Genes, bcl-2 / physiology
  • Genes, fos / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / etiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology
  • Stroke / chemically induced
  • Stroke / prevention & control*
  • Women's Health


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Estradiol