Oral conjugated equine estrogens (CEE) are the most used estrogen formulation for postmenopausal hormone therapy either alone or in combination with a progestin. CEE is most commonly used for the management of early menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginitis, insomnia, and mood disturbances. Additionally, if used at the start of the menopausal phase (age 50-59 years), CEE prevents osteoporosis and may in some women reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). There appears to be a common mechanism through which estrogens can protect against CVD and AD. CEE is a natural formulation of an extract prepared from pregnant mares' urine. The product monogram lists the presence of only 10 estrogens consisting of the classical estrogens, estrone and 17β-estradiol, and a group of unique ring B unsaturated estrogens such as equilin and equilenin. The ring B unsaturated estrogens are formed by an alternate steroidogenic pathway in which cholesterol is not an obligatory intermediate. Both the route of administration and structure of these estrogens play a role in the overall pharmacology of CEE. In contrast to 17β-estradiol, ring B unsaturated estrogens express their biological effects mainly mediated by the estrogen receptor β and not the estrogen receptor α. All estrogen components of CEE are antioxidants, and some ring B unsaturated estrogens have several fold greater antioxidant activity than estrone and 17β-estradiol. The cardioprotective and neuroprotective effects of CEE appear to be, to some extent, due to its ability to prevent the formation of oxidized LDL and HDL, and by inhibiting or modulating some of the key proteases involved in programmed cell death (apoptosis) induced by the excess neurotransmitter glutamate and other neurotoxins. Selective combinations of ring B unsaturated estrogens have the potential of being developed as novel therapeutic agents for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease in both aging women and men. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Menopause'.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Apoptosis; Cardiovascular disease; Conjugated equine estrogens; Excitotoxicity; LDL oxidation.
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