Estrogen Improves Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms in Mice
A cellular hallmark of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the death of neurons involved in movement. There may be many causes of this, but one cause involves gene mutations in the protein alpha-synuclein.1 When this protein is abnormal, it is shorter than normal and clumps together inside neurons (nerve cells), causing them to die.1 The question, then, is what helps to protect neurons involved with movement from PD – and one of the answers might be estrogen.
There have been studies that report that men are at higher risk of developing PD than women, and that men also tend to have a younger age of onset of PD than women. Post-menopausal women are also more susceptible to PD, further raising the question about whether estrogen, or lack thereof, may play a part in the development of the disease.1
Symptoms of Parkinson's
There is no cure for PD, but treatments are aimed at controlling and managing symptoms. There are motor and non-motor symptoms of PD. There are four main motor symptoms of PD: tremor, rigidity, slow movement (also called bradykinesia), and balance problems.2 Although PD is a movement disorder, there are also non-motor symptoms of the condition, including changes in the sense of smell, sleep issues, depression/anxiety, pain, weight loss, and cognitive changes.2 A person doesn’t have to have all of the symptoms in order to be diagnosed with PD. As the disease progresses, symptoms worsen.
A study in mice
An article published in Journal of Neuroscience discussed an initial study where scientists injected mice with a mouse model of PD to study female sex and selective estrogen treatment on brain tissue and motor deficits. The female mice showed a significant delay in onset of neuropathological symptoms, and the male mice treated with estrogen showed improvements in brain pathology and motor performance.3 The scientists concluded that brain-selective estrogen treatments may help to delay or reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in both men and post-menopausal women – but this would need to be further studied.
Current treatments for PD
There is no standard treatment for PD; instead, treatments vary among individuals based on the person’s symptoms. Possible treatments can include medications, surgical therapy, and lifestyle changes or modifications. A person’s treatment plan can change over time, depending on the symptoms they’re experiencing and their severity. Many people do a variety of treatments, including a variety of medications, to manage symptoms.
Things to keep in mind
While these findings are exciting and promising, this is in the earliest stages of research. This has only been studied and tested in mice, so far. It will be at least several years – or even longer – until the findings can be translated into possible treatments for humans, and whether the same findings will hold true. This is a positive sign, though, and will hopefully translate into new and more targeted treatments in the future.
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