A new study by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh goes a long way to explain why women have an increased risk of stroke following the menopause. The researchers found that it may be due to a compound produced by the body known as 2-methoxyestradiol (2-ME), which comes from estrogen. The research was published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Edwin Jackson, PhD, explained that our brains are maintained and protected from infection by a process called phagocytosis, where the immune cells known as microglia consume damaged cells and bacteria, and release toxic molecules which encourage the death of injured cells and bacteria. This process is also evident after brain injuries such as stroke or trauma. However, if the microglia become overactive, they can also kill cells that might have survived the injury, thus making the situation worse. By exposing mouse microglial cells to 2-ME, the scientists found that the cells multiplied less and their activity was reduced, thereby preventing phagocytosis and the release of the toxic molecules.
Why the risk of stroke increases after menopause
These findings go a long way to explaining why the risk of stroke increases after women go through the menopause. Prior to the menopause women produce both estrogen and progesterone, and have a lower risk of stroke compared to men, as their microglia are able to metabolise estradiol (an estrogen) into 2-ME. After menopause, estradiol levels drop, thus increasing their risk of having a stroke. The researchers believe that by administering 2-ME to women, their risk of stroke could be lowered.
However, this use of 2-ME is not just limited to women, it can be used for men too. It could also prove to be of benefit for the treatment or prevention of other types of brain injury, particularly as current research has shown that 2-ME is not just safe, but also has anti-cancer properties, protects the cardiovascular system and has already been successfully used for reducing pulmonary artery hypertension.
The researchers now plan to confirm the effects of 2-ME by carrying out further research using animal models of brain injury.
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