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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and the aging brain: flipping a coin in the "fountain of youth".

CNS drug reviews (2003-02-22)
Marco Racchi, Carla Balduzzi, Emanuela Corsini
ABSTRACT

The physiological role of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulphated ester DHEA(S) has been studied for nearly 2 decades and still eludes final clarification. The major interest in DHEA derives from its unique pattern of activity. Its levels exhibit a dramatic age-related decline that supports significant involvement of DHEA(S) in the aging process. Particularly relevant to the aging process is the functional decline that involves memory and cognitive abilities. DHEA is derived mainly from synthesis in the adrenal glands and gonads. It can also be detected in the brain where it is derived from a synthesis that is independent from peripheral steroid sources. For this reason DHEA and other steroid molecules have been named "neurosteroids." Pharmacological studies on animals provided evidence that neurosteroids could be involved in learning and memory processes because they can display memory-enhancing properties in aged rodents. However, human studies have reported contradictory results that so far do not directly support the use of DHEA in aging-related conditions. As such, it is important to remember that plasma levels of DHEA(S) may not reflect levels in the central nervous system (CNS), due to intrinsic ability of the brain to produce neurosteroids. Thus, the importance of neurosteroids in the memory process and in age-related cognitive impairment should not be dismissed. Furthermore, the fact that the compound is sold in most countries as a health food supplement is hampering the rigorous scientific evaluation of its potential. We will describe the effect of neurosteroids, in particular DHEA, on neurochemical mechanism involved in memory and learning. We will focus on a novel effect on a signal transduction mechanism involving a classical "cognitive kinase" such as protein kinase C. The final objective is to provide additional tools to understand the physiological role and therapeutic potentials of neurosteroids in normal and/or pathological aging, such as Alzheimer's disease.

MATERIALS
Product Number
Brand
Product Description

Avanti
DHEA, Dehydroepiandrosterone, powder
Avanti
DHEA sulfate, Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (sodium salt), powder