Highlights from presentations by University of Southern California researchers at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting this week in Atlanta, Ga.
ESTROGEN PLAYS BOTH SIDES ON ALZHEIMER'S
Hormone replacement therapy can worsen Alzheimer's disease in older women but may prevent or delay the onset of the illness if started early, said Roberta Diaz Brinton, professor of molecular pharmacology and toxicology in the USC School of Pharmacy.
One of four panelists at a symposium on "The Aging Female Brain" at the 2006 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Brinton is scheduled to present findings from her latest study, published online by the journal Endocrinology.
Brinton's research group set out to understand why HRT raises the risk of Alzheimer's for women 65 and older, as determined by recent large clinical trials.
In the process, the USC researchers found that HRT may lower Alzheimer's risk by as much as 50 percent in younger women.
"Essentially, they're being treated in a prevention mode," Brinton said. "If the [brain] cells are healthy, estrogen essentially promotes their survival. In unhealthy cells, cells that are degenerating, it's not great. It actually exacerbates the degenerative process."
Brinton added that HRT, when started early, appears to lower the risk of many other degenerative diseases.
"It's not that you don't age," she said. "You just age better."
To exploit estrogen's apparent protective mechanisms while minimizing its risks, Brinton's group is attempting to develop "brain-selective estrogens" that would benefit neural networks without activating cancer-related sites in the breast or uterus.
Also at the 2006 SFN annual meeting, Brinton is scheduled to become only the fourth recipient of the society's Science Educator Award, in recognition of her leadership in USC's STAR program, a neighborhood outreach effort that reaches ne
Contact: Carl Marziali
University of Southern California