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Neuroscience. 2003;116(3):851-61.

Estrogen prevents the loss of CA1 hippocampal neurons in gerbils after ischemic injury.

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  • 1The Women's Health Research Institute, Wyeth Research, Collegeville, PA 19426, USA.


Estrogen replacement therapy is thought to attenuate the incidence of Alzheimer's disease in women and enhance cognitive functions. In rodents, estrogen protects cerebral cortical neurons from ischemic injury and cultured neurons from a variety of perturbations. Because few nuclear estrogen receptors have been detected in the dorsal hippocampus, the present studies used a global ischemia model to evaluate the neuroprotective actions of estrogen in this region. Ovariectomized gerbils were treated with placebo, 0.5 mg or 1 mg pellets of estradiol for 13 days. On day 7, the common carotid arteries were occluded for 5 min and on day 13 the animals were killed. Analysis of neurogranin mRNA, a marker of hippocampal neurons, with in situ hybridization revealed a dramatic and selective loss of CA1 neurons in the placebo-treated ovariectomized gerbils, whereas both 0.5 mg and 1 mg pellets of 17beta-estradiol prevented cell loss. Subsequent studies showed that a variety of estrogens, including diethylstilbestrol, estrone and 17alpha-estradiol as well as vitamin E, also protected CA1 neurons from ischemic injury in ovariectomized gerbils, whereas treatment with the estrogen antagonist tamoxifen was ineffective. The results of in vivo binding studies with 17alpha-iodovinyl-11beta-methoxyestradiol revealed a concentration of nuclear estrogen binding sites in the CA1 region of the ovariectomized gerbil brain, whereas binding in other hippocampal regions was limited. Moreover, the binding studies revealed that the regional pattern of binding was not altered after ischemic injury, with the exception of the hippocampus, where the binding sites were attenuated in ovariectomized animals with time after ischemic injury. Together, these data demonstrate that a variety of steroidal and non-steroidal estrogens are potent neuroprotective agents in an animal model of global ischemia, agents that protect neurons critical for learning and memory and susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases.

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