In the central nervous system, androgens can exert either protective or damage-promoting effects. For example, testosterone protects neurons against β-amyloid toxicity, whereas in other studies, testosterone exacerbated stroke-induced lesion size. The mechanism underlying this duality of androgens is still unclear. Recently, our laboratory reported that androgens elicit opposite effects on the ERK/MAPK and Akt signaling pathways, depending on whether a membrane androgen receptor (AR) or intracellular AR was activated. By extension, we hypothesized that androgens may affect cell viability differently depending on which receptor is activated. Here, we found that dihydrotestosterone (DHT) protected primary cortical astrocytes from the metabolic and oxidative insult associated with iodoacetic acid-induced toxicity, whereas DHT-BSA, a cell impermeable analog of DHT that preferentially targets the membrane AR, suppressed Akt signaling, increased caspase 3/7 activity, and enhanced iodoacetic acid-induced cell death. Interestingly, DHT-BSA also blocked the protective effects of DHT and estradiol. Collectively, these data support the existence of two, potentially competing, pathways for androgens in a given cell or tissue that may provide insight into the controversy of whether androgen therapy is beneficial or detrimental.
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