News Release: Research , School of Medicine

Nov. 2,  2009

Sound Science Podcast: Progesterone - It's More Than a Sex Hormone

News Article ImageDonald Stein, PhD

Listen to Audio Listen to the Sound Science Podcast

Twenty-five years ago neuroscientist Donald Stein, PhD, began to suspect that women's brains differed from men's when it came to recovering from traumatic brain injuries. Specifically, Stein observed that female lab rats recovered more readily than males-thanks to progesterone.

Thus began Stein's series of pioneering discoveries regarding the effect of progesterone following traumatic brain injury, and he was one of the first to discover the neuro-protective properties of progesterone in the laboratory. Stein is Asa G. Candler Professor of Emergency Medicine at Emory School of Medicine and director of the department's Brain Research Laboratory.

"Most people at the time were saying, this is nuts," says Stein. "But we learned that progesterone is not just a female hormone, it's a male hormone as well."

Although it is widely considered a "sex steroid," progesterone is naturally present in small but measurable amounts in the brains of males and females. Human brain tissue is loaded with progesterone receptors. Laboratory studies suggest that progesterone is critical for the normal development of neurons in the brain and exerts protective effects on damaged brain tissue.

To listen to Stein's own words about treating traumatic brain injuries with progesterone, access Emory's new Sound Science podcast at

Earlier this year, Emory University officials announced the third phase of a groundbreaking study to evaluate the effectiveness of the hormone progesterone on patients with acute traumatic brain injuries.

Backed by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Emory-led, multicenter, randomized, double-blinded study (ProTECT III) will enroll 1,140 patients at 17 medical centers in 15 states. Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital will serve as the lead center, led by Emory University School of Medicine faculty researchers, in concert with colleagues from the Morehouse School of Medicine.

David Wright, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory School of Medicine is the national study's lead investigator. Michael Frankel, MD, Emory professor of neurology, will serve as site principal investigator of the clinical trial at Grady. The University of Michigan will provide the central study oversight and coordination. Data analysis will occur at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Emory researchers concluded in an earlier clinical trial that giving progesterone to trauma victims shortly following brain injury appears to be safe and may reduce the risk of death and long-term disability. Their three-year study, called ProTECT (Progesterone for Traumatic brain injury--Experimental Clinical Treatment) enrolled 100 participants. It was designed to evaluate whether progesterone can be administered intravenously in a safe and reliable way.

By expanding their testing in a large, nationwide study, the researchers hope to confirm these preliminary findings and determine if progesterone benefits victims of acute traumatic brain injury.

Originally posted on October 30, 2009


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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