An investigation into the neuroprotective effects of estrogen and progesterone in a model of homocysteine- induced neurodegeneration

by Wu, Wing Man

Abstract (Summary)
Homocysteine (Hcy) is a sulfur containing amino acid and is a potent neurotoxin. It has been shown that elevated levels of Hcy, termed hyperhomocysteinemia, plays a role in the pathologies of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and age-related cognitive decline. Hcy is a glutamate agonist, which causes in increase in Ca[superscript (2+)] influx via the activation of NMDA class of excitatory amino acid receptors, which results in neuronal cell death and apoptosis. Estrogen and progesterone are female hormones that are responsible for reproduction and maternal behaviour. However, in the last decade, it is evident that both female hormones have neuroprotective properties in many animal models of neurodegeneration. Collectively, both estrogen and progesterone reduce the consequences of the oxidative stress by enhancing the antioxidant defence mechanisms, reducing excitotoxicity by altering glutamate receptor activity and reducing the damage caused by lipid peroxidation. However, the mechanisms by which estrogen and progesterone provide such neuroprotection probably depend on the type and concentration of hormone present. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy (HRT, estrogen and progestins) or estrogen-only replacement therapy (ERT) may prevent or delay the onset of AD and improve cognition for women with AD. Clinical trials have also shown that women taking HRT may modify the effects of Hcy levels on cognitive functioning. Oxidative stress increases in the aging brain and thus has a powerful effect on enhanced susceptibility to neurodegenerative disease. The detection and measurement of lipid peroxidation and superoxide anion radicals in the brain tissue supports the involvement of free radical reactions in neurotoxicity and in neurodegenerative disorders. The hippocampus is an important region of the brain responsible for the formation of memory. However, agents that induce stress in this area have harmful effects and could lead to dementia. This study aims to investigate and clarify the neuroprotective effects of estrogen and progesterone, using Hcy-induced neurodegenerative models. The initial studies demonstrate that estrogen and progesterone have the ability to scavenge potent free radicals. Histological studies undertaken reveal that both estrogen and progesterone protect against Hcy-induced neuronal cell death. In addition, immunohistochemical investigations show that Hcy-induced apoptosis in the hippocampus can be inhibited by both estrogen and progesterone. However, estrogen also acts at the NMDA receptor as an agonist, while progesterone blocks at the NMDA receptor. These mechanisms reduce the ability of Hcy to cause damage to neurons, since Hcy-induced neurotoxicity is dependent on the overstimulation of the NMDA receptor. SOD and GPx are important enzymatic antioxidants which can react with ROS and neutralize them before these inflict damage in the brain. Hcy can increase oxidative stress by inhibiting expression and function of these antioxidants. However, it has been shown that the antioxidant abilities of both estrogen and progesterone can up-regulate the activities of SOD and GPx. These results provide further evidence that estrogen and progesterone act as antioxidants and are free radical scavengers. The discovery of neuroprotective agents is becoming important as accumulating evidence indicates the protective role of both estrogen and progesterone in Hcy-induced neurodegeneration. Thus further work in clinical trials is needed to examine whether reducing Hcy levels with HRT can become the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:faculty of pharmacy


Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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