Roles of Oestrogen Receptors α and β in Behavioural Neuroendocrinology: Beyond Yin/Yang

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Abstract

Oestrogen receptor β (ERβ) was discovered more than 10 years ago. It is widely distributed in the brain. In some areas, such as the entorhinal cortex, it is present as the only ER, whereas in other regions, such as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and preoptic area, it can be found co-expressed with ERα, often within the same neurones. These ERs share ligands, and there are several complex relationships between the two receptors. Initially, the relationship between them was labelled as ‘yin/yang’, meaning that the actions of each complemented those of the other, but now, years later, other relationships have been described. Based on evidence from neuroendocrine and behavioural studies, three types of interactions between the two oestrogen receptors are described in this review. The first relationship is antagonistic; this is evident from studies on the role of oestrogen in spatial learning. When oestradiol is given in a high, chronic dose, spatial learning is impaired. This action of oestradiol requires ERα, and when ERβ is not functional, lower doses of oestradiol have this negative effect on behaviour. The second relationship between the two receptors is one that is synergistic, and this is illustrated in the combined effects of the two receptors on the production of the neuropeptide oxytocin and its receptor. The third relationship is sequential; separate actions of the two receptors are postulated in activation and organisation of sexually dimorphic reproductive behaviours. Future studies on all of these topics will inform us about how ER selective ligands might affect oestrogen functions at the organismal level.

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