Aims: Effective stroke treatments beyond reperfusion remain scant. The natural steroid hormone progesterone has shown protective effects in experimental models of brain injury and cardiovascular disease. However, unfavorable bioavailability limits its clinical use. Desogestrel and drospirenone are new generation progestins with progesterone-like properties, developed as oral contraceptives with excellent bioavailability and safety profile. We investigated the neuroprotective properties of these progestins in vivo using transient middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) and in vitro using an oxygen-glucose deprivation and reoxygenation (OGD/R) model in primary neuronal cells.
Methods and Results: MCAO was induced in female, female ovariectomized (modeling postmenopausal females) and male mice. Treatment with the progestins resulted in less severe strokes after MCAO and less neuronal death in OGD/R. Desogestrel and drospirenone induced higher expression levels of GABAAR α4 and delta subunits within the brain, suggesting changes in GABAAR configuration favoring tonic inhibition as potential mechanism of action. Treatment with the GABAAR blocker picrotoxin abolished the protection afforded by the progestins in vivo and in vitro.
Conclusions: For the first time, here we delineate a potential role of desogestrel and drospirenone, both clinically approved and safe drugs in mitigating the consequences of stroke. Contraception with desogestrel and drospirenone in progestin-only preparations may be particularly beneficial for women at risk of stroke.