Surgical menopause may prime brain for stroke, Alzheimer's

Surgical menopause may prime brain for stroke, Alzheimer's
This is Dr. Brann and Dr. Zhang. Credit: GRU Photographer

Women who abruptly and prematurely lose estrogen from surgical menopause have a two-fold increase in cognitive decline and dementia.

"This is what the clinical studies indicate and our animal studies looking at the underlying mechanisms back this up," said Brann, corresponding author of the study in the journal Brain. "We wanted to find out why that is occurring. We suspect it's due to the premature loss of estrogen."

In an effort to mimic what occurs in women, Brann and his colleagues looked at rats 10 weeks after removal of their estrogen-producing that were either immediately started on low-dose estrogen therapy, started therapy 10 weeks later or never given estrogen.

When the researchers caused a stroke-like event in the brain's hippocampus, a center of , they found the rodents treated late or not at all experienced more , specifically to a region of the hippocampus called CA3 that is normally stroke-resistant.

To make matters worse, untreated or late-treated rats also began an abnormal, robust production of Alzheimer's disease-related proteins in the CA3 region, even becoming hypersensitive to one of the most toxic of the beta amyloid proteins that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

Both problems appear associated with the increased production of in the brain. In fact, when the researchers blocked the excessive production, heightened stroke sensitivity and in the CA3 region were reduced.

Interestingly the brain's increased sensitivity to such as inadequate oxygen was gender specific, Brann said. Removing testes in male rats, didn't affect stroke size or damage.

Although exactly how it works is unknown, estrogen appears to help protect younger females from problems such as stroke and heart attack. Their risks of the maladies increase after menopause to about the same as males. Follow up studies are needed to see if estrogen therapy also reduces sensitivity to the protein in the CA3 region, as they expect, Brann noted.

Brann earlier showed that prolonged estrogen deprivation in aging rats dramatically reduces the number of brain receptors for the hormone as well as its ability to prevent strokes. Damage was forestalled if estrogen replacement was started shortly after hormone levels drop, according to the 2011 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The surprising results of the much-publicized Women's Health Initiative – a 12-year study of 161,808 women ages 50-79 – found hormone therapy generally increased rather than decreased stroke risk as well as other health problems. Critics said one problem with the study was that many of the women, like Brann's aged rats, had gone years without hormone replacement, bolstering the case that timing is everything.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Estrogen and stroke risk

Nov 03, 2009

Eighteen years ago this month the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would sponsor a landmark study to examine women and cardiovascular disease. Known as the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), the study enrolled ...

Recommended for you

A new cause of mental disease?

1 hour ago

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from ...

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

Jul 22, 2014

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

Jul 22, 2014

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

Study examines blood markers, survival in patients with ALS

Jul 21, 2014

The blood biomarkers serum albumin and creatinine appear to be associated with survival in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and may help define prognosis in patients after they are diagnosed with the fatal ...

User comments