Many actions of androgens require their conversion via the enzyme aromatase into oestrogens. Changes in brain aromatase activity are thought to take place via changes in enzyme concentration mediated by effects of sex steroids on aromatase transcription. These changes are relatively slow which fits in well with the fact that oestrogens are generally viewed as slow-acting messengers that act via changes in gene transcription. More recently, fast actions of oestrogens, presumably at the level of the cell membrane, have been described both in the female brain and in the male brain after the conversion of testosterone to oestradiol. It is difficult to reconcile the slow regulation of oestrogen synthesis (that occurs via changes in aromatase concentration) with a rapid action at the membrane level. Even if fast transduction mechanisms are available, this will not result in rapid changes in brain function if the availability of the ligand does not also change rapidly. Here, we report that aromatase activity in neural tissue of male Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) is rapidly downregulated in the presence of Mg(2+), Ca(2+) and ATP in hypothalamic homogenates and in brain explants exposed to high Ca(2+) levels following a K(+)-induced depolarization or the stimulation of glutamate receptors. The K(+)-induced inhibition of aromatase activity is observed within minutes and reversible. Given that aromatase is present in presynaptic boutons, it is possible that rapidly changing levels of locally produced oestrogen are available for nongenomic regulation of neuronal physiology in a manner more akin to the action of a neuropeptide than previously hypothesized.