Horm Behav. 2013 Feb;63(2):284-90..Epub 2012 Jun 23.
Progesterone and neuroprotection
Numerous studies aimed at identifying the role of estrogen on the brain have used the ovariectomized rodent as the experimental model. And while estrogen intervention in these animals has, at least partially, restored cholinergic, neurotrophin and cognitive deficits seen in the ovariectomized animal, it is worth considering that the removal of the ovaries results in the loss of not only circulating estrogen but of circulating progesterone as well. As such, the various deficits associated with ovariectomy may be attributed to the loss of progesterone as well. Similarly, one must also consider the fact that the human menopause results in the precipitous decline of not just circulating estrogens, but in circulating progesterone as well and as such, the increased risk for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease during the postmenopausal period could also be contributed by this loss of progesterone.
In fact, progesterone has been shown to exert neuro-protective effects, both in cell models, animal models and in humans. Here, we review the evidence that supports the neuroprotective effects of progesterone and discuss the various mechanisms that are thought to mediate these protective effects. We also discuss the receptor pharmacology of progesterone’s neuroprotective effects and present a conceptual model of progesterone action that supports the complementary effects of membrane-associated and classical intracellular progesterone receptors. In addition, we discuss fundamental differences in the neurobiology of progesterone and the clinically used, synthetic progestin, medroxyprogesterone acetate that may offer an explanation for the negative findings of the combined estrogen/progestin arm of the Women’s Health Initiative-Memory Study (WHIMS) and suggest that the type of progestin used may dictate the outcome of either pre-clinical or clinical studies that addresses brain function.