Gonadotropin-releasing hormone 1 (GnRH1) is a key regulator of the reproductive neuroendocrine system in vertebrates. Recent developments have suggested that GnRH1 neurons exhibit far greater plasticity at the cellular and molecular levels than previously thought. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that sub-populations of GnRH1 neurons in the preoptic area are highly responsive to specific environmental and hormonal conditions. In this paper we discuss findings that reveal large variation in GnRH1 mRNA and protein expression that are regulated by social cues, photoperiod, and hormonal feedback. We draw upon studies using histochemistry and immediate early genes (e.g., c-FOS/ZENK) to illustrate that specific groups of GnRH1 neurons are topographically organized. Based on data from diverse vertebrate species, we suggest that GnRH1 expression within individuals is temporally dynamic and this plasticity may be evolutionarily conserved. We suggest that the plasticity observed in other neuropeptide systems (i.e. kisspeptin) may have evolved in a similar manner.
GnRH1; Reproduction; LHRH; Gonadotropins; vertebrate; Kisspeptin; LH surge; feedback
Estrogens have a multitude of effects on opioid systems and are thought to play a key role in sexually dimorphic nociception and opioid antinociception. Heretofore, classical genomic actions of estrogens are largely thought to be responsible for the effects of these steroids on nociception and opioid antinociception. The recent discovery that estrogens can also activate estrogen receptors that are located in the plasma membrane, the effects of which are manifest in seconds to minutes instead of hours to days has revolutionized our thinking concerning the ways in which estrogens are likely to modulate pain responsiveness and the dynamic nature of that modulation. This review summarizes parameters of opioid functionality and nociception that are subject to modulation by estrogens, underscoring the added dimensions of such modulation that accrues from rapid membrane estrogen receptor signaling. Implications of this mode of signaling regarding putative sources of estrogens and its degradation are also discussed.
estrogens; estrogen receptors; antinociception; nociception; opioid; opioid receptors; sexual dimorphism; mu-opioid receptor; kappa-opioid receptor; rapid membrane estrogen receptor signaling
Beside their genomic mode of action, estrogens also activate a variety of cellular signaling pathways through non-genomic mechanisms. Until recently, little was known regarding the functional significance of such actions in males and the mechanism that control local estrogen concentration with a spatial and time resolution compatible with these non-genomic actions had rarely been examined. Here, we review evidence that estrogens rapidly modulate a variety of behaviors in male vertebrates. Then, we present in vitro work supporting the existence of a control mechanism of local brain estrogen synthesis by aromatase along with in vivo evidence that rapid changes in aromatase activity also occur in a region-specific manner in response to changes in the social or environmental context. Finally, we suggest that the brain estrogen provision may also play a significant role in females. Together these data bolster the hypothesis that brain-derived estrogens should be considered as neuromodulators.
aromatase; estrogen receptors; non-genomic effects; male behavior
Over the years, our ideas about estrogen signaling have greatly expanded. In addition to estradiol having direct nuclear actions that mediate transcription and translation, more recent experiments have demonstrated membrane-initiated signaling. Both direct nuclear and estradiol membrane signaling can be mediated by the classical estrogen receptors, ERα and ERβ, which are two of the numerous putative membrane estrogen receptors. Thus far, however, only ERα has been shown to play a prominent role in regulating female reproduction and sexual behavior. Because ERα is a ligand-gated transcription factor and not a typical membrane receptor, trafficking to the cell membrane requires post-translational modifications. Two necessary modifications are palmitoylation and association with caveolins, a family of scaffolding proteins. In addition to their role in trafficking, caveolin proteins also serve to determine ERα interactions with metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs). It is through these complexes that ERα, which cannot by itself activate G proteins, is able to initiate intracellular signaling. Various combinations of ERα-mGluR interactions have been demonstrated throughout the nervous system from hippocampus to striatum to hypothalamus to dorsal root ganglion (DRG) in both neurons and astrocytes. These combinations of ER and mGluR allow estradiol to have both facilitative and inhibitory actions in neurons. In hypothalamic astrocytes, the estradiol-mediated release of intracellular calcium stores regulating neurosteroid synthesis requires ERα-mGluR1a interaction. In terms of estradiol regulation of female sexual receptivity, activation of ERα-mGluR1a signaling complex leads to the release of neurotransmitters and alteration of neuronal morphology. This review will examine estradiol membrane signaling (EMS) activating a limbic-hypothalamic lordosis regulating circuit, which involves ERα trafficking, internalization, and modifications of neuronal morphology in a circuit that underlies female sexual receptivity.
Estradiol receptor; mGluR; caveolin; spinogenesis; lordosis behavior; dendritic spines
Estrogens exert sustained, genomically mediated effects on memory throughout the female life cycle, but here we review new studies documenting rapid effects of estradiol on memory, which are exerted through membrane-mediated mechanisms. Use of recognition memory tasks in rats, shows that estrogens enhance memory consolidation within one hour. 17α-estradiol is more potent than 17β-estradiol, and the dose response relationship between estrogens and memory is an inverted U shape. Use of specific estrogen receptor (ER) agonists suggests mediation by an ERβ-like membrane receptor. Enhanced memory is associated with increased spine density and altered noradrenergic activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus within 30 min. of administration. The environmental chemical, bisphenol-A, rapidly antagonizes enhancements in memory in both sexes possibly through actions on spines. Thus, estradiol and related compounds exert rapid alterations in cognition through non-genomic mechanisms, a finding which may provide a basis for better understanding and treating memory impairments.
Estradiol plays a pivotal role in the control of GnRH neuronal function, hence female reproduction. A series of recent studies in our laboratory indicate that rapid excitatory actions of estradiol directly modify GnRH neuronal activity in primate GnRH neurons through GPR30 and STX-sensitive receptors. Similar rapid direct actions of estradiol through estrogen receptor beta are also described in mouse GnRH neurons. In this review, we propose two novel hypotheses as a possible physiological role of estradiol in primates. First, while ovarian estradiol initiates the preovulatory GnRH surge through interneurons expressing estrogen receptor alpha, rapid direct membrane-initiated action of estradiol may play a role in sustaining GnRH surge release for many hours. Second, locally produced neuroestrogens may contribute to pulsatile GnRH release. Either way, estradiol synthesized in interneurons in the hypothalamus may play a significant role in the control of the GnRH surge and/or pulsatility of GnRH release.
GnRH neurons; rapid action of estradiol; GPR30; GnRH surge; GnRH pulses; neuroestrogen; membrane estrogen receptors
Our knowledge of membrane estradiol signaling mechanisms and their interactions that regulate physiology and behavior has grown rapidly over the past three decades. The discovery of novel membrane estrogen receptors and their signaling mechanisms has started to reveal the complex timing and interactions of these various signaling mechanisms with classical genomic steroid actions within the nervous system to regulate physiology and behavior. The activation of the various estrogenic signaling mechanisms is site specific and differs across the estrous cycle acting through both classical genomic mechanisms and rapid membrane-initiated signaling to coordinate reproductive behavior and physiology. This review focuses on our current understanding of estrogenic signaling mechanisms to promote: 1) sexual receptivity within the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, 2) estrogen positive feedback that stimulates de novo neuroprogesterone synthesis to trigger the luteinizing hormone surge important for ovulation and estrous cyclicity, and 3) alterations in energy balance.
Estrogen Receptor; membrane estradiol receptors; lordosis; feeding; LH surge; neuroprogesterone
This review focuses on the effects of estrogens upon the cerebellum, a brain region long ignored as a site of estrogen action. Highlighted are the diverse effects of estradiol within the cerebellum, emphasizing the importance of estradiol signaling in cerebellar development, modulation of synaptic neurotransmission in the adult, and the potential influence of estrogens on various health and disease states. We also provide new data, consistent with previous studies, in which locally synthesized estradiol modulates cerebellar glutamatergic neurotransmission, providing one underlying mechanism by which the actions of estradiol can affect this brain region.
estrogen receptor; glutamate; ataxia; Purkinje neuron; neuroprotection; estradiol; motor control; alcohol; hormone therapy
It is well known that many of the actions of estrogens in the central nervous system are mediated via intracellular receptor/transcription factors that interact with steroid response elements on target genes. However, there now exists compelling evidence for membrane estrogen receptors in hypothalamic and other brain neurons. But, it is not well understood how estrogens signal via membrane receptors, and how these signals impact not only membrane excitability but also gene transcription in neurons. Indeed, it has been known for sometime that estrogens can rapidly alter neuronal activity within seconds, indicating that some cellular effects can occur via membrane delimited events. In addition, estrogens can affect second messenger systems including calcium mobilization and a plethora of kinases to alter cell signaling. Therefore, this review will consider our current knowledge of rapid membrane-initiated and intracellular signaling by estrogens in the hypothalamus, the nature of receptors involved and how they contribute to homeostatic functions.
ERα; ERβ; GABAB receptor; Gαq-mER; GIRK channels; GnRH; μ-opioid receptor; PKA; PKC; POMC
Data suggest that cytokines released during the inflammatory response target subcortical structures including the basal ganglia as well as dopamine function to acutely induce behavioral changes that support fighting infection and wound healing. However, chronic inflammation and exposure to inflammatory cytokines appears to lead to persisting alterations in the basal ganglia and dopamine function reflected by anhedonia, fatigue, and psychomotor slowing. Moreover, reduced neural responses to hedonic reward, decreased dopamine metabolites in the cerebrospinal fluid and increased presynaptic dopamine uptake and decreased turnover have been described. This multiplicity of changes in the basal ganglia and dopamine function suggest fundamental effects of inflammatory cytokines on dopamine synthesis, packaging, release and/or reuptake, which may sabotage and circumvent the efficacy of current treatment approaches. Thus, examination of the mechanisms by which cytokines alter the basal ganglia and dopamine function will yield novel insights into the treatment of cytokine-induced behavioral changes and inflammatory malaise.
inflammatory cytokines; interferon-alpha; inflammation; dopamine; tetrahydrobiopterin; kynurenine; oxidative stress; basal ganglia; fatigue; depression
The brain, endocrine, and immune systems are inextricably linked. Immune molecules have a powerful impact on neuroendocrine function, including hormone-behavior interactions, during health as well as sickness. Similarly, alterations in hormones, such as during stress, can powerfully impact immune function or reactivity. These functional shifts are evolved, adaptive responses that organize changes in behavior and mobilize immune resources, but can also lead to pathology or exacerbate disease if prolonged or exaggerated. The developing brain in particular is exquisitely sensitive to both endogenous and exogenous signals, and increasing evidence suggests the immune system has a critical role in brain development and associated behavioral outcomes for the life of the individual. Indeed, there are associations between many neuropsychiatric disorders and immune dysfunction, with a distinct etiology in neurodevelopment. The goal of this review is to describe the important role of the immune system during brain development, and to discuss some of the many ways in which immune activation during early brain development can affect the later-life outcomes of neural function, immune function, mood and cognition.
microglia; cytokines; chemokines; cognition; hippocampus; Toll-like Receptors; infection; sensitive periods
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signaling greatly impacts the development and growth of the central nervous system (CNS). IGF-I and IGF-II, two ligands of the IGF system, exert a wide variety of actions both during development and in adulthood, promoting the survival and proliferation of neural cells. The IGFs also influence the growth and maturation of neural cells, augmenting dendritic growth and spine formation, axon outgrowth, synaptogenesis, and myelination. Specific IGF actions, however, likely depend on cell type, developmental stage, and local microenvironmental milieu within the brain. Emerging research also indicates that alterations in IGF signaling likely contribute to the pathogenesis of some neurological disorders. This review summarizes experimental studies and shed light on the critical roles of IGF signaling, as well as its mechanisms, during CNS development.
IGF-I; IGF-II; IGF1R; CNS; Development; Neurons; Glial cells
Our laboratory has investigated whether and how 17β-estradiol (E2) protects the brain against neurodegeneration associated with cerebrovascular stroke. We have discovered that low, physiological concentrations of E2, which are strikingly similar to low-basal circulating levels found in cycling mice, dramatically protect the brain against stroke injury, and consequently revealed multiple signaling pathways and key genes that mediate protective action of E2. Here we will review the discoveries comprising our current understanding of neuroprotective actions of estrogens against ischemic stroke. These findings may carry far reaching implications for improving the quality of life in aging populations.
17β-Estradiol; Estrogen receptor; Estrogen therapy; Ischemia; Middle cerebral artery occlusion; Inflammation; Neurogenesis; Stroke; Women’s health initiative
Many vertebrates are highly motivated to communicate, suggesting that the consequences of communication may be rewarding. Past studies show that dopamine and opioids in the medial preoptic nucleus (mPOA) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) play distinct roles in motivation and reward. In songbirds, multiple lines of recent evidence indicate that the roles of dopamine and opioid activity in mPOA and VTA in male birdsong differ depending upon whether song is used to attract females (sexually-motivated) or is produced spontaneously (undirected). Evidence is reviewed supporting the hypotheses that 1) mPOA and VTA interact to influence the context in which a male sings, 2) distinct patterns of dopamine activity underlie the motivation to produce sexually-motivated and undirected song, 3) sexually-motivated communication is externally reinforced by opioids released as part of social interactions, and 4) undirected communication is facilitated and rewarded by immediate opioid release linked to the act of singing.
communication; medial preoptic nucleus; ventral tegmental area; dopamine; opioids; song control system; reward; motivation; birdsong; social behavior
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease characterized by inflammation and demyelination. Currently, the cause of MS is unknown. Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) is the most common mouse model of MS. Treatments with the sex hormones, estrogens and androgens, are capable of offering disease protection during EAE and are currently being used in clinical trials of MS. Beyond endogenous estrogens and androgens, treatments with selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) for estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) and estrogen receptor beta (ERβ) are also capable of providing disease protection. This protection includes, but is not limited to, prevention of clinical disease, reduction of CNS inflammation, protection against demyelination, and protection against axonal loss. In EAE, current efforts are focused on using conditional cell specific knockouts of sex hormone receptors to identify the in vivo targets of these estrogens and androgens as well as downstream molecules responsible for disease protection.
EAE; MS; ERα; ERβ; Estriol; Estradiol; Testosterone; 5αDHT; Neuroprotection
Cytokines are molecules secreted by peripheral immune cells, microglia, astrocytes and neurons in the central nervous system. Peripheral or central inflammation is characterized by an upregulation of cytokines and their receptors in the brain. Emerging evidence indicates that pro-inflammatory cytokines modulate brain excitability. Findings from both the clinical literature and from in vivo and in vitro laboratory studies suggest that cytokines can increase seizure susceptibility and may be involved in epileptogenesis. Cellular mechanisms that underlie these effects include upregulation of excitatory glutamatergic transmission and downregulation of inhibitory GABAergic transmission.
PMID: 22214786 CAMSID: cams2589
Cytokine; Inflammation; Seizure; Epilepsy; Synapse; Interleukin; Tumor necrosis factor α; Chemokine; Lipopolysaccharide; Febrile convulsion
17β-estradiol (estradiol or E2) is implicated as a neurodegenerative disorders. This review focuses on the mechanisms underlying E2 neuroprotection in cerebral ischemia, as well as emerging evidence from basic science and clinical studies, which suggests that there is a “critical period” for estradiol's beneficial effect in the brain. Potential mechanisms underlying the critical period are discussed, as are the neurological consequences of long-term E2 deprivation (LTED) in animals and in humans after natural menopause or surgical menopause. We also summarize the major clinical trials concerning postmenopausal hormone therapy (HT), comparing their outcomes with respect to cardiovascular and neurological disease and discussing their relevance to the critical period hypothesis. Finally, potential caveats, controversies and future directions for the field are highlighted and discussed throughout the review.
Estrogen; Brain; Cerebral Ischemia; Stroke; Dementia; Menopause; Critical Period; Hormone Therapy
Gonadal hormones exert neuroprotective actions. In addition, it has become evident that the local synthesis of these molecules in the central nervous system may prevent or reduce neurodegeneration. The neuroprotective actions of steroids involve neurons, glial cells and blood vessels, are exerted via steroid receptor signaling initiated at the nuclear or membrane level and steroid receptor independent mechanisms. They include the regulation of phosphatases and kinases and the regulation of the expression of molecules controlling inflammation and apoptosis. In addition, mitochondria have emerged as new central targets for neuroprotective actions of steroids. These neuroprotective actions have been documented in different experimental models of neurological alterations, including motoneuron injury, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, steroids promote serotonergic neuronal function and protect against affective disorders. This special issue of Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology contains a collection of reviews of the most recent ideas and findings on these various aspects of sex steroid-dependent neuroprotection.
allopregnanolone; apoptosis; aromatase; astroglia; estradiol; microglia; mitochondria; progesterone; testosterone; vitamin-D
The chemical complexity of cell-to-cell communication has emerged as a fundamental challenge to understanding brain systems. This is certainly true for the hypothalamus, where neuropeptide signals are heterogeneous, localized and dynamic. Thus far, most hypothalamic peptidomic studies have centered on the entire structure; however, recent advances in collection strategies and analytical technologies have enabled direct, high-resolution peptidomic profiles focused on two regions of interest, the suprachiasmatic and supraoptic nuclei, including their subregions and individual cells. Suites of peptides now can be identified and probed for function. High spatial and analytical sensitivities reveal that discrete hypothalamic nuclei have distinct peptidomic signatures. Peptidomic discovery not only reveals unanticipated complexity, but also peptides previously unknown that act as key circuit components. Analysis of tissue releasates identifies peptides secreted into the extracellular environment and available for transmitting intercellular signals. Direct sampling techniques define peptide-releasate profiles in spatial, temporal and event-dependent patterns. These approaches are providing remarkable new insights into the complexity of neuropeptidergic cell-to-cell signaling central to neuroendocrine physiology.
Arginine vasopressin (AVP); Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP); Hypothalamus; Little SAAS; Mass spectrometry (MS); Neuropeptide; Peptidomics; Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN); Supraoptic nucleus (SON); Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP)
This review highlights our investigations into the neuroprotective efficacy of estradiol and other estrogenic agents in a clinically relevant animal model of transient global ischemia, which causes selective, delayed death of hippocampal CA1 neurons and associated cognitive deficits. We find that estradiol rescues a significant number of CA1 pyramidal neurons that would otherwise die in response to global ischemia, and this is true when hormone is provided as a long-term pretreatment at physiological doses or as an acute treatment at the time of reperfusion. In addition to enhancing neuronal survival, both forms of estradiol treatment induce measurable cognitive benefit in young animals. Moreover, estradiol and estrogen analogs that do not bind classical nuclear estrogen receptors retain their neuroprotective efficacy in middle-aged females deprived of ovarian hormones for a prolonged duration (8 weeks). Thus, non-feminizing estrogens may represent a new therapeutic approach for treating the neuronal damage associated with global ischemia.
stroke; global ischemia; neuroprotection; estradiol; hippocampus; estrogen receptor; insulin-like growth factor-1; GPR30; apoptosis; CREB
Seasonal courtship signals, such as mating calls, are orchestrated by steroid hormones. Sex differences are also sculpted by hormones, typically during brief sensitive periods. The influential organizational-activational hypothesis  established the notion of a strong distinction between long-lasting (developmental) and cyclical (adult) effects. While the dichotomy is not always strict , experimental paradigms based on this hypothesis have indeed revealed long-lasting hormone actions during development and more transient anatomical, physiological and behavioral effects of hormonal variation in adulthood. Sites of action during both time periods include forebrain and midbrain sensorimotor integration centers, hindbrain and spinal cord motor centers, and muscles. African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) courtship vocalizations follow the basic organization-activation pattern of hormone-dependence with some exceptions, including expanded steroid-sensitive periods. Two highly-tractable preparations—the isolated larynx and the fictively calling brain—make this model system powerful for dissecting the hierarchical action of hormones. We discuss steroid effects from larynx to forebrain, and introduce new directions of inquiry for which Xenopus vocalizations are especially well-suited.
Frog; Xenopus; vocalization; courtship; reproduction; androgen; estrogen; steroids; central pattern generator; CPG; larynx
The steroid hormone estradiol plays an important role in reproductive development and behavior and modulates a wide array of physiological and cognitive processes. Recently, reports from several research groups have converged to show that estradiol also powerfully modulates sensory processing, specifically, the physiology of central auditory circuits in songbirds. These investigators have discovered that (1) behaviorally-relevant auditory experience rapidly increases estradiol levels in the auditory forebrain; (2) estradiol instantaneously enhances the responsiveness and coding efficiency of auditory neurons; (3) these changes are mediated by a non-genomic effect of brain-generated estradiol on the strength of inhibitory neurotransmission; and (4) estradiol regulates biochemical cascades that induce the expression of genes involved in synaptic plasticity. Together, these findings have established estradiol as a central regulator of auditory function and intensified the need to consider brain-based mechanisms, in addition to peripheral organ dysfunction, in hearing pathologies associated with estrogen deficiency.
17β-Estradiol; Audition; Selectivity; Fadrozole; Estrogen; Aromatase; Behavior; Vocal learning; Selectivity; Auditory coding
Photoperiodism is the ability of plants and animals to measure environmental day length to ascertain time of year. Central to the evolution of photoperiodism in animals is the adaptive distribution of energetically challenging activities across the year to optimize reproductive fitness while balancing the energetic tradeoffs necessary for seasonally- appropriate survival strategies. The ability to accurately predict future events requires endogenous mechanisms to permit physiological anticipation of annual conditions. Day length provides a virtually noise free environmental signal to monitor and accurately predict time of the year. In mammals, melatonin provides the hormonal signal transducing day length. Duration of pineal melatonin is inversely related to day length and its secretion drives enduring changes in many physiological systems, including the HPA, HPG, and brain-gut axes, the autonomic nervous system, and the immune system. Thus, melatonin is the fulcrum mediating redistribution of energetic investment among physiological processes to maximize fitness and survival.
Photoperiod; melatonin; immune; plasticity; seasonality; annual cycles; tradeoffs; life history strategy
The sheep offers a unique mammalian model in which to study paradoxical same-sex sexual partner preferences. Variations in sexual partner preferences occur spontaneously with as many as 8% of rams in a population exhibiting a sexual preference for other rams (male-oriented). The current review presents an overview and update of the male-oriented ram model and discusses several theories that have been invoked to explain same sex preferences in this species. Although our understanding of the biological determinants and underlying neural substrates of sexual attraction and mate selection are far from complete, compelling evidence is discussed that supports the idea that neural substrates regulating sexual partner preferences are organized during prenatal development. The challenge for future research will be to construct an integrated picture of how hormones, genes, and experience shape sexual partner preference.
sheep; rams; sexual partner preferences; sexual orientation; aromatase; sexually dimorphic area; medial preoptic area; gonadal steroids; sexual differentiation
Female sexual behavior in rodents, typified by the lordosis posture, is hormone-dependent and sex-specific. Ovarian hormones control this behavior via receptors in the hypothalamic ventromedial nucleus (VMH). This review considers the sex differences in the morphology, neurochemistry and neural circuitry of the VMH to gain insights into the mechanisms that control lordosis. The VMH is larger in males compared with females, due to more synaptic connections. Another sex difference is the responsiveness to estradiol, with males exhibiting muted, and in some cases reverse, effects compared with females. The lack of lordosis in males may be explained by differences in synaptic organization or estrogen responsiveness, or both, in the VMH. However, given that damage to other brain regions unmasks lordosis behavior in males, a male-typical VMH is unlikely the main factor that prevents lordosis. In females, key questions remain regarding the mechanisms whereby ovarian hormones modulate VMH function to promote lordosis.
estradiol; estrogen receptor; hypothalamus; lordosis; reproductive behavior; sexual differentiation; ventromedial nucleus