Estrogens influence CNS development and a broad spectrum of neural functions. Several lines of evidence also suggest a neuroprotective role for estrogen. Different modes of estrogen action have been described at the cellular level involving classical nuclear estrogen receptor (ER)-dependent and nonclassical membrane ER-mediated rapid signaling. We have previously shown that nonclassical estrogen signaling is implicated in the control of dopamine cell function and protection. Since nonclassical interactions between estrogens and glia may contribute to these effects, our aim was to demonstrate the presence of membrane-associated ERs and their putative coupling to intracellular signaling pathways in astrocytes. Confocal image analysis and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) studies indicated the attachment of ER-alpha but not ER-beta to the plasma membrane of astrocytes. ERs were located in the cell soma region and glial processes. FACS analysis revealed that only a subpopulation of midbrain astrocytes possesses membrane ER-alpha. In FACS studies on ER-alpha knockout astrocytes, only a few membrane ER-positive cells were detected. The activation of membrane ERs appears to be coupled to the MAP-kinase/Src signaling pathway as shown by Western blotting. In conclusion, our data provide good evidence that nonclassical estrogen action in astrocytes is mediated by membrane ER-alpha. The physiological consequence of this phenomenon is not yet understood, but it might have a pivotal role in estrogen-mediated protective effects on midbrain dopamine neurons.