Mechanisms of estrogen action

Physiol Rev. 2001 Oct;81(4):1535-65. doi: 10.1152/physrev.2001.81.4.1535.


Our appreciation of the physiological functions of estrogens and the mechanisms through which estrogens bring about these functions has changed during the past decade. Just as transgenic mice were produced in which estrogen receptors had been inactivated and we thought that we were about to understand the role of estrogen receptors in physiology and pathology, it was found that there was not one but two distinct and functional estrogen receptors, now called ER alpha and ER beta. Transgenic mice in which each of the receptors or both the receptors are inactive have revealed a much broader role for estrogens in the body than was previously thought. This decade also saw the description of a male patient who had no functional ER alpha and whose continued bone growth clearly revealed an important function of estrogen in men. The importance of estrogen in both males and females was also demonstrated in the laboratory in transgenic mice in which the aromatase gene was inactivated. Finally, crystal structures of the estrogen receptors with agonists and antagonists have revealed much about how ligand binding influences receptor conformation and how this conformation influences interaction of the receptor with coactivators or corepressors and hence determines cellular response to ligands.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Male
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, Estrogen / chemistry
  • Receptors, Estrogen / classification
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Urogenital System / metabolism


  • Estrogens
  • Ligands
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Estrogen