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J Neurobiol. 1999 Sep 15;40(4):574-84.

Role of astroglia in estrogen regulation of synaptic plasticity and brain repair.

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Instituto Cajal, CSIC, Av. Dr. Arce 37, E-28002 Madrid, Spain.


Astroglia are targets for estrogen and testosterone and are apparently involved in the action of sex steroids on the brain. Sex hormones induce changes in the expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein, the growth of astrocytic processes, and the degree of apposition of astroglial processes to neuronal membranes in the rat hypothalamus. These changes are linked to modifications in the number of synaptic inputs to hypothalamic neurons. These findings suggest that astrocytes may participate in the genesis of androgen-induced sex differences in synaptic connectivity and in estrogen-induced synaptic plasticity in the adult brain. Astrocytes and tanycytes may also participate in the cellular effects of sex steroids by releasing neuroactive substances and by regulating the local accumulation of specific growth factors, such as insulin-like growth factor-I, that are involved in estrogen-induced synaptic plasticity and estrogen-mediated neuroendocrine control. Astroglia may also be involved in regenerative and neuroprotective effects of sex steroids, since astroglia formation after brain injury or after peripheral nerve axotomy is regulated by sex hormones. Furthermore, the expression of aromatase, the enzyme that produces estrogen, is induced de novo in astrocytes in lesioned brain areas of adult male and female rodents. Since astroglia do not express aromatase under normal circumstances, the induction of this enzyme may be part of the program of glial activation to cope with the new conditions of the neural tissue after injury. Given the neuroprotective and growth-promoting effects of estrogen after injury, the local production of this steroid may be a relevant component of the reparative process.

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