, Volume 116, Issue 11, pp 1417-1425,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 04 Sep 2009

Estrus cyclicity of spinogenesis: underlying mechanisms


Hippocampal spine density varies with the estrus cycle. The cyclic change in estradiol levels in serum was hypothesized to underlie this phenomenon, since treatment of ovariectomized animals with estradiol induced an increase in spine density in hippocampal dendrites of rats, as compared to ovariectomized controls. In contrast, application of estradiol to hippocampal slice cultures did not promote spinogenesis. In addressing this discrepancy, we found that hippocampal neurons themselves are capable of synthesizing estradiol de novo. Estradiol synthesis can be suppressed by aromatase inhibitors and by knock-down of Steroid Acute Regulatory Protein (StAR) and enhanced by substrates of steroidogenesis. Expression of estrogen receptors (ERs) and synaptic proteins, synaptogenesis, and long-term potentiation (LTP) correlated positively with aromatase activity in hippocampal cultures without any difference between genders. All effects due to inhibition of aromatase activity were rescued by application of estradiol to the cultures. Most importantly, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) increased estradiol synthesis dose-dependently via an aromatase-mediated mechanism and consistently increased spine synapse density and spinophilin expression. As a consequence, our data suggest that cyclic fluctuations in spine synapse density result from pulsative release of GnRH from the hypothalamus and its effect on hippocampal estradiol synthesis, rather than from varying levels of serum estradiol. This hypothesis is further supported by higher GnRH receptor (GnRH-R) density in the hippocampus than in the cortex and hypothalamus and the specificity of estrus cyclicity of spinogenesis in the hippocampus, as compared to the cortex.

J. Prange-Kiel and L. Fester contributed equally to this work.