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Mol Psychiatry. 2013 Jun;18(6):674-80. doi: 10.1038/mp.2012.62. Epub 2012 Jun 5.

Involvement of estrogen receptor β in maintenance of serotonergic neurons of the dorsal raphe.

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Department of Biology and Biochemistry, Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204, USA.


The serotonergic neurons of the dorsal raphe (DR) nucleus in the CNS are involved in fear, anxiety and depression. Depression and anxiety occur quite frequently in postmenopausal women, but estrogen replacement to correct these CNS disorders is at present not favored because estrogen carries with it an increased risk for breast cancer. Serotonin synthesis, release and reuptake in the DR are targets of pharmaceuticals in the treatment of depression. In the present study we have examined by immunohistochemistry, the expression of two nuclear receptors, that is, the estrogen receptors ERα and ERβ. We found that ERβ but not ERα is strongly expressed in the DR and there is no sex difference and no change with ageing in the number of tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH)-positive neurons in the DR of wild-type (WT) mice. However, in ovariectomized (OVX) WT and in ERβ(-/-) mice, there was a marked reduction in the number of TPH-positive normal-looking neurons and a marked increase in TPH-positive spindle-shaped cells. These neuronal changes were prevented in mice 1-3 weeks (but not 10 weeks) after OVX by the selective ERβ agonist, LY3201, given as continuous release pellets for 3 days. The ERβ agonist had no effects on glucose homeostasis. Thus, the onset of action of the ERβ agonist is rapid but there is a limited window in time after estrogen loss when the drug is useful. We conclude that, rather than estradiol, ERβ agonists could be useful pharmaceuticals in maintaining functional DR neurons to treat postmenopausal depression.

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