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Vitam Horm. 2010;82:319-38. doi: 10.1016/S0083-6729(10)82017-5.

Estrogen in the limbic system.

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Department of Neuroscience, Neuroimaging Center, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.


Estrogens are a group of steroid hormones that function as the primary female sex hormone. Estrogens not only have an important role in the regulation of the estrous or menstrual cycle but also control, for example, bone formation, the cardiovascular system, and cognitive functions. Estradiol (E2), the main representative of the group, is highly lipophylic and can easily pass the blood-brain barrier to modulate neuronal activity. Particularly the limbic system, a group of tightly interconnected forebrain areas controlling mood and emotion, is rich in estrogen receptors. To date two cytoplasmatic and/or nuclear estrogen receptors named ER-alpha (ERalpha) and ER-beta (ERbeta) have been identified. In the brain, ERalpha plays a critical role in regulating reproductive neuroendocrine behavior and function. ERbeta appears to play an important role in nonreproductive behaviors, such as learning and memory, anxiety, and mood. Five splice variants of ERbeta, named Erb1, Erb2, Erb1d3, Erb2d3, and Erb1d4, have been identified with possibly different biological activities. There is evidence of a thus far not definitely characterized membrane-linked ER receptor named mER-X. In this review, the anatomy of the limbic system and the distribution of estrogen receptors (ERs) are described in relation to coping with stress and the higher prevalence of stress-related psychiatric disorders in women. Effects of cyclic estrogen administration and chronic stress on recovery and neuronal plasticity are illustrated with own results.

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