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Stroke. 2000 Jan;31(1):161-8.

Neuroprotective effects of female gonadal steroids in reproductively senescent female rats.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Division of Comparative Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.



Young adult female rats sustain smaller infarcts after experimental stroke than age-matched males. This sex difference in ischemic brain injury in young animals disappears after surgical ovariectomy and can be restored by estrogen replacement. We sought to determine whether ischemic brain injury continues to be smaller in middle-aged, reproductively senescent female rats compared with age-matched males and to test the effect of ovarian steroids on brain injury after experimental stroke in females.


Four groups of 16-month old Wistar rats (males [n=9], untreated females [n=9], and females pretreated with 17beta-estradiol [25-microgram pellets administered subcutaneously for 7 days; n=9] or progesterone [10-mg pellets administered subcutaneously for 7 days; n=9] were subjected to 2 hours of middle cerebral artery occlusion with the intraluminal filament technique, followed by 22 hours of reperfusion. Physiological variables and laser-Doppler cerebral cortical perfusion were monitored throughout ischemia and early reperfusion. In a separate cohort of males (n=3), untreated females (n=3), females pretreated with 17beta-estradiol (n=3), and females pretreated with progesterone (n=3), end-ischemic regional cerebral blood flow was measured by [(14)C]iodoantipyrine autoradiography.


As predicted, infarct size was not different between middle-aged male and female rats. Cortical infarcts were 21+/-5% and 31+/-6% of ipsilateral cerebral cortex, and striatal infarcts were 44+/-7% and 43+/-5% of ipsilateral striatum in males and females, respectively. Both estrogen and progesterone reduced cortical infarct in reproductively senescent females (5+/-2% and 16+/-4% in estrogen- and progesterone-treated groups, respectively, compared with 31+/-6% in untreated group). Striatal infarct was smaller in the estrogen- but not in the progesterone-treated group. Relative change in laser-Doppler cerebral cortical perfusion from preischemic baseline and absolute end-ischemic regional cerebral blood flow were not affected by hormonal treatments.


We conclude that the protection against ischemic brain injury found in young adult female rats disappears after reproductive senescence in middle-aged females and that ovarian hormones alleviate stroke injury in reproductively senescent female rats by a blood flow-independent mechanism. These findings support a role for hormone replacement therapy in stroke injury prevention in postmenopausal women.

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