Menopausal transition: A possible risk factor for brain pathologic events

S. M. Bonomo, A. E. Rigamonti, M. Giunta, D. Galimberti, A. Guaita, M. G. Gagliano, E. E. Müller, S. G. Cella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and objective: Incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) are higher in postmenopausal women than in age-matched men. Since at menopause the endocrine system and other biological paradigms undergo substantial changes, we thought to be of interest studying whether (and how) the balance between some biological parameters allegedly neuroprotective (e.g. related to estrogen, dehydroepiandrosterone and CD36 functions) and others considered pro-neurotoxic (e.g. related to glucocorticoid and interleukin-6 activities) vary during lifespan in either sex in either normalcy or neurodegenerative disorders. Subjects and methods: Along with this aim, we evaluated the gene expression levels of estrogen receptors (ERs), glucocorticoid receptors (HGRs), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and CD36, a scavenger receptor of class B allegedly playing a key role in the proinflammatory events associated with AD, in a population of 209 healthy subjects (73M, 106F, 20-91-year old) and 85 AD patients (36M, 49F, 65-89-year old). Results obtained were related to plasma titers of estrogens, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). Studies were performed in peripheral leukocytes, since these cells (1) are easily obtainable by a simple blood sampling, (2) express many molecules and multiple receptors which are under the same regulatory mechanisms as those operative in the brain and (3) some of them, e.g. monocytes, share many functions with microglial cells. Results: In healthy men all the study parameters were quite stable during lifespan. In women, instead, at menopausal transition, some changes that may predispose to neurodegeneration occurred. In particular, there was (1) an up-regulation of ERs, and a concomitant increase of IL-6 gene expression, events likely due to the loss of the inhibitory control exerted by estradiol (E 2); (2) an increase of HGRα:HGRβ ratio, indicative of an augmented cortisol activity on HGRα not sufficiently counteracted by the inhibitory HGRβ function; (3) a reduced CD36 expression, directly related to the increased cortisol activity; and (4) an augmented plasma cortisol:DHEAS ratio, widely recognized as an unfavorable prognostic index for the risk of neurodegeneration. In AD patients of both sexes, the expression of the study parameters was similar to that found in sex- and age-matched healthy subjects, thus indicating their unrelatedness to the disease, and rather a better correlation with biological events. Conclusions: Menopausal transition is a critical phase of women's life where the occurrence of an unfavorable biological milieu would predispose to an increased risk of neurodegeneration. Collectively, the higher prevalence of AD in the female population would depend, at least in part, on the presence of favoring biological risk factors, whose contribution to the development of the disease occurs only in the presence of possible age-dependent triggers, such as beta-amyloid deposition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-80
Number of pages10
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • Alzheimers disease
  • CD36
  • Estrogen receptors
  • Glucocorticoid receptors
  • Hormone receptors
  • IL-6
  • Leukocytes
  • Menopausal transition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Ageing
  • Developmental Biology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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