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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2001 Nov;37(1-3):320-34.

Interactions of estrogens and insulin-like growth factor-I in the brain: implications for neuroprotection.

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  • 1Instituto Cajal, C.S.I.C., Avenida Doctor Arce 37, E-28002, Madrid, Spain.


Data from epidemiological studies suggest that the decline in estrogen following menopause could increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, experimental studies on different animal models have shown that estrogen is neuroprotective. The mechanisms involved in the neuroprotective effects of estrogen are still unclear. Anti-oxidant effects, activation of different membrane-associated intracellular signaling pathways, and activation of classical nuclear estrogen receptors (ERs) could contribute to neuroprotection. Interactions with neurotrophins and other growth factors may also be important for the neuroprotective effects of estradiol. In this review we focus on the interaction between insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and estrogen signaling in the brain and on the implications of this interaction for neuroprotection. During the development of the nervous system, IGF-I promotes the differentiation and survival of specific neuronal populations. In the adult brain, IGF-I is a neuromodulator, regulates synaptic plasticity, is involved in the response of neural tissue to injury and protects neurons against different neurodegenerative stimuli. As an endocrine signal, IGF-I represents a link between the growth and reproductive axes and the interaction between estradiol and IGF-I is of particular physiological relevance for the regulation of growth, sexual maturation and adult neuroendocrine function. There are several potential points of convergence between estradiol and IGF-I receptor (IGF-IR) signaling in the brain. Estrogen activates the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway and has a synergistic effect with IGF-I on the activation of Akt, a kinase downstream of phosphoinositol-3 kinase. In addition, IGF-IR is necessary for the estradiol induced expression of the anti-apoptotic molecule Bcl-2 in hypothalamic neurons. The interaction of ERs and IGF-IR in the brain may depend on interactions between neural cells expressing ERs with neural cells expressing IGF-IR, or on direct interactions of the signaling pathways of alpha and beta ERs and IGF-IR in the same cell, since most neurons expressing IGF-IR also express at least one of the ER subtypes. In addition, studies on adult ovariectomized rats given intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) infusions with antagonists for ERs or IGF-IR or with IGF-I have shown that there is a cross-regulation of the expression of ERs and IGF-IR in the brain. The interaction of estradiol and IGF-I and their receptors may be involved in different neural events. In the developing brain, ERs and IGF-IR are interdependent in the promotion of neuronal differentiation. In the adult, ERs and IGF-IR interact in the induction of synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, both in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that there is an interaction between ERs and IGF-IR in the promotion of neuronal survival and in the response of neural tissue to injury, suggesting that a parallel activation or co-activation of ERs and IGF-IR mediates neuroprotection.

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