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Neuroscience. 2006;138(3):851-8. Epub 2005 Dec 15.

Estrogen activates rapid signaling in the brain: role of estrogen receptor alpha and estrogen receptor beta in neurons and glia.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, 98195, USA.


The aging process is known to coincide with a decline in circulating sex hormone levels in both men and women. Due to an increase in the average lifespan, a growing number of post-menopausal women are now receiving hormone therapy for extended periods of time. Recent findings of the Women's Health Initiative, however, have called into question the benefits of long-term hormone therapy for treating symptoms of menopause. The results of this study are still being evaluated, but it is clear that a better understanding of the molecular effects of estradiol is needed in order to develop new estrogenic compounds that activate specific mechanisms but lack adverse side effects. Traditionally, the effects of estradiol treatment have been ascribed to changes in gene expression, namely transcription at estrogen response elements. This review focuses on emerging information that estradiol can also activate a repertoire of membrane-initiated signaling pathways and that these rapid signaling events lead to functional changes at the cellular level. The various types of cells in the brain can respond differently to estradiol treatment based on the signaling properties of the cell, as well as which receptor, estrogen receptor alpha and/or estrogen receptor beta, is expressed. Taken together, these findings suggest that the estradiol-induced activation of membrane-initiated signaling pathways occurs in a cell-type specific manner and can differentially influence how the cells respond to various insults.

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