Menopause and Mitochondria: Windows into Estrogen Effects on Alzheimerȁ9;s Disease Risk and Therapy

Victor W. Henderson, Roberta Diaz Brinton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

65 Scopus citations


Metabolic derangements and oxidative stress are early events in Alzheimerȁ9;s disease pathogenesis. Multi-faceted effects of estrogens include improved cerebral metabolic profile and reduced oxidative stress through actions on mitochondria, suggesting that a womanȁ9;s endogenous and exogenous estrogen exposures during midlife and in the late post-menopause might favourably influence Alzheimer risk and symptoms. This prediction finds partial support in the clinical literature. As expected, early menopause induced by oophorectomy may increase cognitive vulnerability; however, there is no clear link between age at menopause and Alzheimer risk in other settings, or between natural menopause and memory loss. Further, among older post-menopausal women, initiating estrogen-containing hormone therapy increases dementia risk and probably does not improve Alzheimerȁ9;s disease symptoms. As suggested by the ȁ8;critical windowȁ9; or ȁ8;healthy cellȁ9; hypothesis, better outcomes might be expected from earlier estrogen exposures. Some observational results imply that effects of hormone therapy on Alzheimer risk are indeed modified by age at initiation, temporal proximity to menopause, or a womanȁ9;s health. However, potential methodological biases warrant caution in interpreting observational findings. Anticipated results from large, ongoing clinical trials [Early Versus Late Intervention Trial with Estradiol (ELITE), Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study (KEEPS)] will help settle whether midlife estrogen therapy improves midlife cognitive skills but not whether midlife estrogen exposures modify late-life Alzheimer risk. Estrogen effects on mitochondria adumbrate the potential relevance of estrogens to Alzheimerȁ9;s disease. However, laboratory models are inexact embodiments of Alzheimer pathogenesis and progression, making it difficult to surmise net effects of estrogen exposures. Research needs include better predictors of adverse cognitive outcomes, biomarkers for risks associated with hormone therapy, and tools for monitoring brain function and disease progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages20
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855


  • Alzheimerȁ9;s disease
  • estrogen
  • hormone therapy
  • memory
  • menopause
  • mitochondria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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