Adult sexual dimorphism in neuronal cell number is controlled by estrogen exposure during a tightly defined period of rat brain development. The mechanisms of estrogen's effect are unknown; one possibility is regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis). In this study we have shown that estradiol can function as a neuroprotective agent or an inducer of apoptosis, depending on the estrogen receptor-subtype present in the cell. Thus, ERalpha has a neuroprotective effect, while ERbeta mediates the induction of apoptosis in neuronal cells. Moreover, we show that estrogen-induced apoptosis through ER-beta requires the expression of Fas- and Fas ligand (FasL) proteins, since the absence of FasL in neurons prevents this effect. Furthermore, we demonstrate that microglia-secreted products induce the expression of FasL necessary to mediate estradiol-ERbeta apoptotic effect. These findings may explain the dichotomous effect of fetal estradiol on the adult neuronal number.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.