Direct and indirect effects of estrogen on rat hippocampus

J. Prange-Kiel, G. M. Rune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Estrogen-induced synaptic plasticity was frequently shown by an increase of spines at apical dendrites of CA1 pyramidal neurons after systemic application of estradiol to ovariectomized rats. Recent findings question this direct endocrine regulation of synaptogenesis by estradiol. We have shown, for the first time, that estrogens are synthesized de novo in rat hippocampal neurons. By using letrozole, an inhibitor of aromatase, estradiol levels in hippocampal dispersion cultures as well as in hippocampal slice cultures were significantly suppressed. Letrozole treatment resulted in a significant decrease in the density of spines and spine synapses and in the number of presynaptic boutons. Quantitative immunohistochemistry revealed a dose-dependent downregulation of spinophilin, a spine marker, and of synaptophysin, a presynaptic marker, in the hippocampus. Surprisingly, exogenous application of estradiol to the cultures had no effect. Indirect effects of estrogens, mediated via subcortical nuclei, may help to explain this phenomenon. Implantation of estrogen-filled cannulae into the median raphe, which projects to the hippocampus, resulted in a significant increase in spine density in the hippocampus after seven days of treatment. This increase was paralleled by a decrease in the density of serotonergic innervation of the strata lacunosum moleculare and radiatum of the CA1 region. Apart from direct endocrine mechanisms our findings suggest that estradiol-induced spinogenesis in the hippocampus is also mediated by indirect mechanisms and is furthermore regulated endogenously, in a paracrine manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-772
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006


  • Aromatase
  • Endogenous estradiol
  • Letrozole
  • Subcortical nuclei
  • Synaptic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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