Contribution to Special Issue on Fast effects of steroids.
Estrogens affect learning and memory through rapid and delayed mechanisms. Here we review studies on rapid effects on short-term memory. Estradiol rapidly improves social and object recognition memory, spatial memory, and social learning when administered systemically. The dorsal hippocampus mediates estrogen rapid facilitation of object, social and spatial short-term memory. The medial amygdala mediates rapid facilitation of social recognition. The three estrogen receptors, α (ERα), β (ERβ) and the G-protein coupled estrogen receptor (GPER) appear to play different roles depending on the task and brain region. Both ERα and GPER agonists rapidly facilitate short-term social and object recognition and spatial memory when administered systemically or into the dorsal hippocampus and facilitate social recognition in the medial amygdala. Conversely, only GPER can facilitate social learning after systemic treatment and an ERβ agonist only rapidly improved short-term spatial memory when given systemically or into the hippocampus, but also facilitates social recognition in the medial amygdala. Investigations into the mechanisms behind estrogens' rapid effects on short term memory showed an involvement of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) kinase pathways. Recent evidence also showed that estrogens interact with the neuropeptide oxytocin in rapidly facilitating social recognition. Estrogens can increase the production and/or release of oxytocin and other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and acetylcholine. Therefore, it is possible that estrogens' rapid effects on short-term memory may occur through the regulation of various neurotransmitters, although more research is need on these interactions as well as the mechanisms of estrogens' actions on short-term memory.