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Endocrine. 2003 Jun;21(1):17-26.

Estrogen and selective estrogen receptor modulators: neuroprotection in the Women's Health Initiative era.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Estrogen has been comprehensively studied as a neuroprotective agent in women, animals, and a variety of in vitro models of neural injury and degeneration. Most data suggest that estrogen can benefit the ischemic brain and reduce cell death. However, recent data from the Women's Health Initiative have raised concerns about the utility and safety of chronic estrogen use in women. While estrogen is a potent and reproducible neuroprotectant in animals and in vitro, its current administration in women has had unanticipated and paradoxical effects. Nonetheless, estrogen's diverse actions make it an ideal prototype for developing new neuroprotectants such as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). SERMs represent a class of drugs with mixed estrogen agonistic and antagonistic activity. Experimental and clinical data suggest a neuroprotective role for SERMs in normal and injured brain. The discrepancy among observational studies, preclinical data, and clinical trials emphasizes the need for further study of the mechanisms leading to the increased incidence of stroke observed in postmenopausal women. Research is still needed to optimize combined or estrogen alone hormone replacement therapy options as well as the prevention/management of cerebrovascular/ central nervous system disorders. This review critiques estrogen and SERMs' neuroprotective potential in experimental and clinical studies of stroke and cerebrovascular disease.

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