The female sex hormone estrogen (17beta-estradiol; E2) may function as a neurohormone and has multiple neuromodulatory functions in the brain. Its potent neuroprotective activities can be dependent and independent of estrogen receptors (ERs). In addition, E2 influences the processing of the amyloid beta precursor protein (APP), one central step in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. Here, we show: (a) that physiological concentrations of E2 very rapidly cause an increased release of secreted nonamyloidogenic APP (sAPPalpha) in mouse hippocampal HT22 and human neuroblastoma SK-N-MC cells; and (b) that this effect is mediated through E2 via the phosphorylation of extracellular-regulated kinase 1 and 2 (ERK1/2), prominent members of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. Furthermore, we show that the activation of MAPK-signaling pathway and the enhancement of the sAPP release is independent of ERs and could be induced by E2 to a similar extent in neuronal cells either lacking or overexpressing a functional ER.