THURSDAY, April 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Testosterone therapy may help improve cognitive function and slow brain atrophy in men with multiple sclerosis (MS), say researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.
It's believed that testosterone may help protect nerve cells from damage caused by the kind of autoimmune system attack that occurs in people with MS.
This study included 10 men with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), a form of the illness characterized by relapses where new symptoms appear or old symptoms reappear or worsen. These relapses are followed by periods of remission, where patients fully or partially recover from the relapse.
For one year, the 10 study participants received daily treatment with 100 milligrams of a testosterone gel applied to the skin. None of the men were taking immunomodulating drugs (which control the immune system) for their MS. The men were assessed every three months.
After 12 months, the men showed significant improvements on a test that measured brain processing speed and working memory. There were also signs of improvement in tests of spatial memory. The rate of brain atrophy slowed by 67 percent during the last nine months of testosterone treatment, the researchers reported. Blood tests showed that production of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (which helps promote nerve cell survival) increased more than twofold after testosterone treatment.
The findings are to be presented this week at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, in San Diego.
"We found that the testosterone treatment resulted in significant improvements in cognitive function, increases in neurotrophic factor production and a slowing of brain atrophy," study author Dr. Nancy Sicotte, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in a prepared statement.
"There was no change in the number or size of MS-related lesions as measured by MRI, although lesion activity was low in the group overall. Our study results in this small group of patients suggest that testosterone therapy may have neuroprotective effects in RRMS, but further study using a placebo-controlled, blinded design in larger groups of men with RRMS is needed to confirm these preliminary results," Sicotte said.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has more about MS.