Estrogen, estrogen-like drugs' ability to protect brain after stroke under study

How brain cells die after a stroke and whether estrogen or estrogen-like drugs can save them is the focus of a new grant at the Medical College of Georgia.

"What we are studying is if estrogen or these estrogen-like drugs were there, would that have reduced stroke damage?" says Dr. Darrell Brann, MCG neuroscientist and principal investigator on a $1.7 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Preliminary data suggest that these substances not only help traumatized cells survive, they further enable post-stroke recovery by encouraging stem cells found in certain parts of the brain to mature into new brain cells.

The studies are in an area surrounding the core of the stroke called the penumbra, where cells might live or die in the hours and weeks following a stroke. "It's a very complex issue because what you have in a stroke is an area that is deprived of blood flow; this is usually called the ischemic core. Blood is not reaching it at all," says Dr. Brann, associate director of MCG's Institute of Neuroscience. "A lot of cell death goes on there because the cells have no nutrients coming in whatsoever. The penumbra, on the other hand, has some blood flow but it is quite diminished." And, it's a mixed blessing.

While the diminished oxygen levels enable some cells to eke by, they also enable production of free radicals, leftovers of normal metabolic processes that cause cell malfunction and death.

But oxygen alone is not to blame. Dr. Brann believes that kinases, enzymes that regulate the activity of proteins by putting phosphates on them, have an important role in the signaling cascade that causes the fragile cells to live or die. "This is a basic mechanism that is in all of us for regulation of cell signaling and to turn off different types of function. We know this process also is involved in cell death related to stroke." Dr. Brann wants to know how it's involved

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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