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UMSOD Researcher Studies Toxic Effects of Anabolic Steroids

Written by Adam Zewe

Recent history is rife with examples of professional athletes who fell from grace because they abused anabolic steroids to improve their athletic performance. However, along with ruining their sports careers, these athletes may have also caused irreparable damage to the neurons in their central nervous systems, according to new research from University of Maryland School of Dentistry Associate Professor John Basile, DDS, DMSc.

Dr. Basile collaborated with Dr. Patrizia Proia, a sports psychologist at the University of Palermo in Sicily, to study the toxic effects of extremely high doses of anabolic steroids on neuron-like cells. The study, which was published in the journal New Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, revealed that high-dose steroids cause nerve cells to undergo a process called apoptosis, which Dr. Basile describes as "cell suicide." The cell's environment becomes so unfavorable that it dies. This cell death is especially harmful for the neurons of the central nervous system, because they do not regenerate. "This is the first step toward examining the effects of steroids on nerves. It is another example of the dangers of taking high dose steroids," remarks Dr. Basile.

High dose steroids cause many well-documented side effects, like damage to the liver and the endocrine system. However, high doses of the drugs also typically cause psychosis and aggression. Research remains unclear as to why these side effects occur. "There's a lot known about the side effects of steroids on certain organs, but not much is known about the effects on nerves. This research may account for some of the psychological side effects of taking high doses of steroids," Dr. Basile states.

The collaborative study taught Dr. Basile a great deal about nerve physiology, which could benefit his own research projects. His lab studies certain proteins that are produced by cancerous tumors, which enable the tumors to attract blood vessels. These blood vessels provide tumors with nutrients that allow them to grow. By preventing a tumor from producing these proteins, clinicians could effectively stop a tumor from expanding.

Dr. Basile enjoyed the challenges of conducting a different type of research during his collaboration with Dr. Proia. While he currently has no plans for further steroid research projects, he is open to the possibility of future studies. "This was a great opportunity to expand the scope of our lab and launch a collaboration with an international lab in Italy," he says.

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