Sunday, November 12, 2006

Brains vs. Breast

This is not a commentary on the merits of beauty pageants, but rather additional information for those of us who dither endlessly about the best therapeutic course through menopause and beyond.

Finnish researchers took samples of normal breast tissue obtained at the time of tumor surgery from otherwise healthy women. When these breasts cells were nurtured in the laboratory along with estradiol and/or medroxyprogesterone (aka Provera), all hormonally-exposed cells demonstrated increased growth, decreased apoptosis (the normal death of breast cells that occurs on a regular basis throughout our reproductive lives), and a loss of differentiation. In other words, the cells increased in number causing them to become more susceptible to potential carcinogenic mutations while losing characteristics of normal breast tissue. Arggh! Time to flush the estrogen down the toilet?

Up the road a ways at the brain, however, the news was better. Noted neuroscientist Roberta Diaz Brinton and colleagues cultured cells in the lab as well, checking for the effects of estradiol on neurons. Hippocampal cells (the little darlings in charge of memory function) ducked destruction from beta-amyloid protein--the Alzheimer's villain--when they were pretreated with estradiol prior to amyloid exposure.

While we wait for Dr. Brinton and others to identify an estrogen-like molecule that neurons love but breast cells ignore, which will it be, brains or breasts?

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