Epidemiological data suggest that the steroid hormone 17β-estradiol plays an important role in protecting the brain from neurodegenerative processes, including that causing the loss of dopamine (DA) neurons in Parkinson’s disease. Determining the mechanisms of neuroprotection in experimental systems may facilitate the development of estrogenic therapies for these diseases. The present study sought to further investigate the mechanism of the neuroprotective effect of 17β-estradiol in a murine model of Parkinson’s disease, i.e. 1-methyl- 4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-induced striatal DA depletion. Consistent with previous findings, 17β-estradiol was found to inhibit MPTP-induced DA depletion under a dosing regimen (repeated daily administration) that mimicked physiological levels of the steroid. However, high doses of the steroid administered repeatedly or acutely failed to inhibit toxicity, as did 17α- estradiol. These data suggest that the neuroprotective effect of 17β-estradiol was mediated through an interaction with one of the nuclear estrogen receptors, and is not the result of an antioxidant action. In order to realize the therapeutic potential of the neuroprotective effect of 17β-estradiol for Parkinson’s disease, it will be necessary to identify synthetic estrogen receptor modulators that lack the activity of the steroid on peripheral tissue. In this study, raloxifene failed to mimic the neuroprotective effect of 17β-estradiol against MPTP toxicity. Thus, exploration of new compounds with different pharmacological and/or physiochemical properties is warranted.
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