The Brain: Target and Source for Sex Steroid Hormones

  • Francesca Bernardi
  • Andrea Riccardo Genazzani
Part of the Medical Science Symposia Series book series (MSSS, volume 13)


There is a large body of evidence indicating that in the brain the action of sex hormones is not limited to the regulation of endocrine functions and mating behavior. In fact, the brain is one of the specific target tissues for sex steroid hormones and the identification of estrogen, progestin, and androgen receptors in numerous regions of the central nervous system (CNS) suggests a role for sex hormones in modulating different brain functions. The mechanism of action of these steroids in the CNS is similar to that observed in the peripheral target organs, producing both genomic and nongenomic effects. In the classical genomic mechanism of steroids, estrogen induces relatively long-term actions on neurons by activating specific intracellular receptors that modulate gene transcription and protein synthesis. Thus, gonadal steroids modulate the synthesis, release, and metabolism of many neuropeptides and neuroactive transmitters and the expression of their receptors (Table 1). Among the neurotransmitters, noradrenaline, dopamine, γ-aminobutirric acid (GABA), acetylcholine, serotonin, and melatonin are modulated by sex steroid hormones. The neuropeptides, which are directly influenced by gonadal hormones, include the opioid peptides, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), neuropeptide Y (NPY), and galanin [1]. Moreover, estrogen exerts very rapid effects in the brain that cannot be attributed to genomic mechanisms. These nongenomic effects of estrogen modulate electrical excitability, synaptic functioning, and morphological features, and are involved in many of the physiological functions and clinical effects of estrogen in the brain [2,3].


Estrous Cycle Gonadal Steroid Premenstrual Syndrome Neuroactive Steroid Nongenomic Effect 
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers and Fondazione Giovanni Lorenzini 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesca Bernardi
  • Andrea Riccardo Genazzani

There are no affiliations available

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