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Tweaking Estrogen Holds Promise for Some Mental Disorders

Tweaking Estrogen Holds Promise for Some Mental DisordersAs many people know, estrogen hormones express a yin and yang effect for women.

New research suggests a method by which the beneficial characteristics may be evoked without detrimental risk.

For decades, scientists have realized that estrogen sharpens mental performance and has promise as a treatment for disorders of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. However, long-term estrogen therapy, once prescribed routinely for menopausal women, is now believed by many to increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Northwestern Medicine researchers say they have discovered how to reap the benefits of estrogen without the risk.

Using a special compound, they flipped a switch that mimics the effect of estrogen on cortical brain cells. The scientists also found how estrogen physically works in brain cells to boost mental performance, which had not been known.

When scientists flipped the switch — activating an estrogen receptor — they witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of connections between brains cells, or neurons. Those connections, called dendritic spines, are tiny bridges that enable the brain cells to talk to each other.

“We created more sites that could allow for more communication between the cells,” said lead investigator Deepak Srivastava, Ph.D.

“We are building more bridges so more information can go from one cell to another.”

Previous research has shown an increase in dendritic spines improves mental performance in animals. In humans, people who have Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia often have a decrease in these spines.

“We think there is a strong link between the number of dendritic spines and your mental performance,” Srivastava said. “A major theory is if you increase the number of spines, it could be a way to treat these significant mental illnesses. ”

Northwestern scientists also found strong clues that estrogen can be produced in cortical brain cells. They identified aromatase, a critical protein needed to produce estrogen, to be in precisely the right spot in the brain cell to make more dendritic spines.

“We’ve found that the machinery needed to make estrogen in these brain cells is near the dendritic spines,” Srivastava said. “It’s exactly where it’s needed. There’s a lot of it in the right place at the right time. ”

Next, Srivastava said, he wants to further identify the key molecules involved in dendritic spine production and target them in the same way as the estrogen receptor in order to ultimately be able to treat schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Nick Brandon, head of psychiatry at Pfizer Inc., whose group collaborated with Northwestern’s Penzes neuroscience lab for this work, added, “We are very excited by the emerging data in this area. There is a great deal of literature and precedent for a role of estrogen and estrogen signaling in major mental illnesses.

“This adds to our understanding of the specific neuronal functions. As we understand the effects of these specific estrogen receptor beta compounds in preclinical models, we are discovering effects on specific neuronal functions, which could be relevant for the treatment of cognitive disorders, depression and schizophrenia. ”

Source: Northwestern University

Tweaking Estrogen Holds Promise for Some Mental Disorders

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Tweaking Estrogen Holds Promise for Some Mental Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/11/19/tweaking-estrogen-holds-promise-for-some-mental-disorders/21089.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.