Within the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the neuroprotective effects of estrogen and the possible beneficial effects of estrogen in neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke, Alzheimer disease, and Parkinson disease. Here, we review the progress in this field, with a particular focus upon estrogen-induced protection from stroke-induced ischemic damage. The important issue of whether clinically relevant selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) such as tamoxifen and raloxifene and estrogen replacement therapy can exert neuroprotection is also addressed. Although the mechanism of estrogen and SERM neuroprotection is not clearly resolved, we summarize the leading possibilities, including 1) a genomic estrogen receptor-mediated pathway that involves gene transcription, 2) a nongenomic signaling pathway involving activation of cell signalers such as mitogen-activated protein kinases and/or phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase /protein kinase B, and 3) a nonreceptor antioxidant free-radical scavenging pathway that is primarily observed with pharmacological doses of estrogen. The role of other potential mediatory factors such as growth factors and the possibility of an astrocyte role in neuroprotection is also discussed.
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