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Estrogen and neuroprotection: from clinical observations to molecular mechanisms.


We now appreciate that estrogen is a pleiotropic gonadal steroid that exerts profound effects on the plasticity and cell survival of the adult brain. Over the past century, the life span of women has increased, but the age of the menopause remains constant. This means that women may now live over one third of their lives in a hypoestrogenic, postmenopausal state. The impact of prolonged hypoestrogenicity on the brain is now a critical health concern as we realize that these women may suffer an increased risk of cognitive dysfunction and neurodegeneration due to a variety of diseases. Accumulating evidence from both clinical and basic science studies indicates that estrogen exerts critical protective actions against neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and stroke. Here, we review the discoveries that comprise our current understanding of estrogen action against neurodegeneration. These findings carry far-reaching possibilities for improving the quality of life in our aging population.

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