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Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1998 Oct;25(10):764-75.

Sex steroid control of mood, mental state and memory.

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MRC Brain Metabolism Unit, University Department of Pharmacology, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


1. Sex steroid hormones exert profound effects on mood and mental state. Thus, in women, oestrogen is thought to protect against depression and delay the onset of schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. 2. Our studies in the female rat show that oestradiol, in its positive feedback mode for gonadotrophin release, increases the expression of genes for the 5-hydroxytryptamine 5-HT2A receptor and the serotonin transporter (SERT) in the dorsal raphe nucleus and the density of 5-HT2A receptor and SERT sites in regions of the forebrain that, in the human, are concerned with cognition, mental state, emotion and memory. 3. In the male rat, castration decreases while oestrogen and testosterone, but not 5 alpha-dihydrotestosterone (5 alpha-DHT), increase the density of 5-HT2A receptors in forebrain. The fact that 5 alpha-DHT has no effect suggests that the action of testosterone depends on its conversion to oestradiol by aromatase. 4. In intact rats, the density of 5-HT2A receptors in cerebral cortex is significantly higher in pro-oestrous female than in male and dioestrous female rats, showing that the spontaneous, preovulatory surge of oestradiol that reaches a peak at 12.00 h of pro-oestrus also increases the density of 5-HT2A receptors in cortex. 5. Oestrogen and testosterone (by way of its conversion to oestrogen) also stimulate the expression of the arginine vasopressin gene in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis of the rodent, a mechanism that plays a key role in olfactory memory. 6. These actions of sex steroid hormones are discussed in the context of genomic versus non-genomic mechanisms, the recent discovery that there are two oestradiol receptors with different distributions in brain, the significance of our findings for our understanding of the control of mood, mental state and memory and the mechanism by which oestrogen stimulation of the 5-HT2A receptor could delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

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