Researchers have shown that boosting levels of the hormone oestrogen in the brains of mice improved Parkinson's symptoms.
The hormone slowed the build-up of the toxic protein alpha-synuclein.
The results from researchers at Harvard Medical School, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, build on existing evidence that the female sex hormone oestrogen has a protective effect on brain cells.
We know that men are at a higher risk of developing Parkinson's, and tend to develop it at a younger age, compared with women. Researchers think this could be due to oestrogen playing a protective role in dopamine-producing brain cells.
But how the hormone is protecting brain cells in Parkinson's is yet to be determined.
About the study
This study used a mouse model of Parkinson's to investigate the impact of oestrogen-based hormone therapy on the build-up of toxic alpha-synuclein.
Boosting oestrogen levels in the brains of male mice decreased the build-up of toxic clumps of alpha-synuclein. Excitingly, it also slowed the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells and resulted in an improvement in movement symptoms.
Female mice showed less severe symptoms at a later age compared with the male mice, but the oestrogen therapy also improved their symptoms.
A way to manage symptoms
Though at an early stage, this research suggests that oestrogen has the potential to manage or even delay Parkinson's symptoms in men and post-menopausal women, where oestrogen levels are low.
Dr Katherine Fletcher, Research Communications Officer at Parkinson's UK, said:
"These results help us to understand why someone's sex plays a role in Parkinson's and supports previous research suggesting that the female sex hormone could have potential as a therapy for the condition.
"More research is needed to better understand how this hormone is involved in Parkinson's and clinical trials will be essential to see if this hormone can help manage symptoms in people with Parkinson's."