Much evidence indicates that women have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer`s disease (AD) than do men. The reason for this gender difference is unclear. We hypothesize that estrogen deficiency in the brains of women with AD may be a key risk factor. In rapidly acquired postmortem brains from women with AD, we found greatly reduced estrogen levels compared with those from age- and gender-matched normal control subjects; AD and control subjects had comparably low levels of serum estrogen.
We examined the onset and severity of AD pathology associated with estrogen depletion by using a gene-based approach, by crossing the estrogen-synthesizing enzyme aromatase gene knockout mice with APP23 transgenic mice, a mouse model of AD, to produce estrogen-deficient APP23 mice. Compared with APP23 transgenic control mice, estrogen-deficient APP23 mice exhibited greatly reduced brain estrogen and early-onset and increased amyloid peptide (A) deposition. These mice also exhibited increased A production, and microglia cultures prepared from the brains of these mice were impaired in A clearance/degradation. In contrast, ovariectomized APP23 mice exhibited plaque pathology similar to that observed in the APP23 transgenic control mice. Our results indicate that estrogen depletion in the brain may be a significant risk factor for developing AD neuropathology.