Abnormalities in sex hormone levels may contribute to the damage to brain tissue typical of multiple sclerosis, indicates research in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
Researchers analysed the sex hormone levels of 36 healthy people and compared them with those of 60 men and women with the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS). The average age of the participants was 32, and those with MS had had their disease for an average of six years.
The hormones tested included follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone, oestradiol, testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAs).
In women, hormone levels were tested during both phases of their menstrual cycle, to account for variations. None of the women had used oral contraceptives, and all had normal cycles.
The 25 men and 35 women with MS were also given brain scans (magnetic resonance imaging or MRI) to identify areas of tissue damage and inflammation, caused by the disease.
Compared with healthy women, those with MS had lower levels of the male hormone testosterone in both phases of their menstrual cycle.
And those with the lowest testosterone levels also had the highest amount of inflammation in their brain tissue, expressed as the number of gadolinium enhancing lesions.
Women with MS and abnormally high testosterone levels also had greater levels of brain damage and a trend towards increased disability.
Among men, there were no differences in testosterone levels between those with MS and the healthy group. But men with MS and the highest levels of the female hormone oestrogen also had the greatest degree of brain tissue damage.
None of the other hormones seemed to have any impact on the findings.
While the degree of overall brain damage was similar in the men and women, women tended to have more signs of inflammation than men. Previous research by the same team has indicated that there could be a gender difference in the progression of MS, with men tending to have more progressive and severe disease.
Dr Carlo Pozzilli, Department of Neurological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy
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