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Brain Res. 2006 Dec 18;1126(1):2-26. Epub 2006 Sep 15.

Functional significance of the rapid regulation of brain estrogen action: where do the estrogens come from?

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, 108 Ames Hall, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218-2686, USA.


Estrogens exert a wide variety of actions on reproductive and non-reproductive functions. These effects are mediated by slow and long lasting genomic as well as rapid and transient non-genomic mechanisms. Besides the host of studies demonstrating the role of genomic actions at the physiological and behavioral level, mounting evidence highlights the functional significance of non-genomic effects. However, the source of the rapid changes in estrogen availability that are necessary to sustain their fast actions is rarely questioned. For example, the rise of plasma estrogens at pro-estrus that represents one of the fastest documented changes in plasma estrogen concentration appears too slow to explain these actions. Alternatively, estrogen can be synthesized in the brain by the enzyme aromatase providing a source of locally high concentrations of the steroid. Furthermore, recent studies demonstrate that brain aromatase can be rapidly modulated by afferent inputs, including glutamatergic afferents. A role for rapid changes in estrogen production in the central nervous system is supported by experiments showing that acute aromatase inhibition affects nociception as well as male sexual behavior and that preoptic aromatase activity is rapidly (within min) modulated following mating. Such mechanisms thus fulfill the gap existing between the fast actions of estrogen and their mode of production and open new avenues for the understanding of estrogenic effects on the brain.

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