Plasma membrane estrogen receptors exist and functions as dimers

Mol Endocrinol. 2004 Dec;18(12):2854-65. doi: 10.1210/me.2004-0115. Epub 2004 Jul 1.


A small pool of estrogen receptors (ERalpha and -beta) localize at the plasma membrane and rapidly signal to affect cellular physiology. Although nuclear ERs function mainly as homodimers, it is unknown whether membrane-localized ER exists or functions with similar requirements. We report that the endogenous ER isoforms at the plasma membrane of breast cancer or endothelial cells exist predominantly as homodimers in the presence of 17beta-estradiol (E2). Interestingly, in endothelial cells made from ERalpha /ERbeta homozygous double-knockout mice, membrane ERalpha or ERbeta are absent, indicating that the endogenous membrane receptors derive from the same gene(s) as the nuclear receptors. In ER-negative breast cancer cells or Chinese hamster ovary cells, we expressed and compared wild-type and dimer mutant mouse ERalpha. Only wild-type ERalpha supported the ability of E2 to rapidly activate ERK, cAMP, and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase signaling. This resulted from E2 activating Gsalpha and Gqalpha at the membrane in cells expressing the wild-type, but not the dimer mutant, ERalpha. Intact, but not dimer mutant, ERalpha also supported E2-induced epidermal growth factor receptor transactivation and cell survival. We also confirmed the requirement of dimerization for membrane ER function using a second, less extensively mutated, human ERalpha. In summary, endogenous membrane ERs exist as dimers, a structural requirement that supports rapid signal transduction and affects cell physiology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Membrane / physiology*
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Dimerization
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / genetics
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / physiology*
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Female
  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits, Gq-G11 / metabolism
  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits, Gs / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estradiol
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits, Gq-G11
  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits, Gs