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Front Neuroendocrinol. 2000 Jan;21(1):95-101.

Estrogen is more than just a "sex hormone": novel sites for estrogen action in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex.

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  • 1Women's Health Research Institute, Radnor, Pennsylvania 19087, USA.


For decades estrogen was thought of only as a "sex hormone," as it plays a fundamental role in regulating behavioral and physiological events essential for successful procreation. In recent years, estrogen has been shown to exert effects on the structure and function of the hippocampus and cortex. The discovery of a new estrogen receptor (ER-beta) and localization of ER-alpha and ER-beta mRNAs in the pyramidal cells of the rat hippocampus and ER-beta mRNA in rat cortex have provided new insight into how estrogen may directly modulate the structure and function of these neurons. Moreover, recent in vivo (125)I-estrogen binding studies have shown that nuclear estrogen binding sites are widely distributed in the pyramidal cells throughout CA1-3 of the hippocampus and laminae II-VI of the isocortex, demonstrating that ER mRNAs are translated into biologically active protein. The functional impact of estrogen receptor localization in the cortex and hippocampus may prove relevant to the emerging role for estrogen as a protective factor in neurodegenerative injury. This potential role is further highlighted by the recent findings that the expression of ER-alpha and ER-beta changes following ischemic brain injury and that these changes correlate with the hormonal modulation of protective factors. These data provide the first evidence that the expression of ERs in the adult cortex is not static, but instead, responsive to neuronal injury and perhaps additional factors that influence the cortical environment and status of these neurons. Together, these data indicate that estrogen has a far greater effect on the hippocampus and isocortex than previously thought. Furthermore, these new findings challenge our current thinking about steroid hormones and their mechanism(s) of action in regions associated with learning and memory and affected by the neurodegenerative conditions of aging.

Copyright 2000 Academic Press.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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