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Novartis Found Symp. 2000;230:56-69; discussion 69-73.

Novel sites and mechanisms of oestrogen action in the brain.

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Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY 10032, USA.


We are investigating novel, non-transcriptionally mediated mechanisms that may contribute to the differentiative effects of oestrogen in developing forebrain neurons. Recent findings in the cerebral cortex document that 17 alpha- and 17 beta-oestradiol elicit rapid and sustained activation of the Ras-Raf-MAP kinase cascade, a major growth factor signalling pathway. Using oestrogen receptor (ER) alpha knockout (ERKO) mice, we addressed the identity of the receptor mediating activation of the MAP kinase cascade. 17 beta-oestradiol increased B-Raf activity and MEK-dependent ERK phosphorylation in explants of wild-type and ERKO cerebral cortex. Although neither the ER alpha-selective ligand, 16 alpha-iodo-17 beta-oestradiol (16 alpha-IE2) nor the ER beta-selective ligand, genistein, elicited ERK phosphorylation, as little as 0.1 nM 17 beta-oestradiol did so. Moreover, 16 alpha-IE2 acted as an inhibitory modulator of ERK activation, and the ER antagonist ICI 182 780 blocked oestradiol action only in wild-type cultures. These data suggest that neither ER alpha nor ER beta mediate activation of the MAP kinase cascade. A putative, novel, oestradiol-sensitive and ICI 182 780-insensitive receptor, designated ER-X may, rather, be involved. Association of ER-X with flotillin, the neuronal homologue of the caveolar protein, caveolin, places ER-X within plasma membrane caveolae and supports the hypothesis that a membrane-associated ER may mediate rapid oestrogen activation of the MAP kinase cascade.

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