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Biological Chemistry

Prodrug Delivers Estrogen Just To The Brain

Medicinal chemistry: Compound could lead to estrogen therapies with fewer side effects

by Michael Torrice
July 27, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 30

Estrogen levels drop in the brains of women who have gone through menopause or had surgeries to remove their ovaries. This hormone deficiency can lead to hot flashes, depression, trouble sleeping, and memory deficits. Hormone replacement therapies can improve women’s quality of life, but taking estrogen has its own problems, such as increased risk of breast and uterine cancer. A new compound could avoid the source of these side effects—the action of estrogen on cells outside the brain (Sci. Transl. Med. 2015, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aab1290). Laszlo Prokai of the University of North Texas Health Science Center and coworkers identified 10β,17β-dihydroxyestra-1,4-dien-3-one (DHED), which is converted to the main human estrogen, 17β-estradiol, in the brain and not elsewhere in the body. An enzyme expressed only in the brain reduces DHED to estradiol. The researchers injected DHED into female rodents without ovaries and showed that estrogen levels jumped in the brain but not in other tissues. Then, through a series of experiments, they demonstrated that the compound had only neurological effects.

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