Distribution patterns of estrogen receptor alpha and beta in the human cortex and hippocampus during development and adulthood

J Comp Neurol. 2007 Aug 20;503(6):790-802. doi: 10.1002/cne.21419.


The expression of estrogen receptors (ERs) in the developing and adult human brain has not been clearly established, although estrogens are crucial for neuronal differentiation, synapse formation, and cognitive functions. By using immunohistochemistry, we have studied the distribution of ER alpha and ER beta in human cerebral cortex and hippocampus from early prenatal stages to adult life. ER alpha was detected in the cortex at 9 gestational weeks (GW), with a high expression in proliferating zones and the cortical plate. The staining intensity decreased gradually during prenatal development but increased again from birth to adulthood. In contrast, ER beta was first detected at 15 GW in proliferating zones, and at 16/17 GW, numerous ER beta immunopositive cells were also observed in the cortical plate. ER beta expression persisted in the adult cortex, being widely distributed throughout cortical layers II-VI. In addition, from around 15 GW to adulthood, ER alpha and ER beta were expressed in human hippocampus mainly in pyramidal cells of Ammon's horn and in the dentate gyrus. Western blotting and immunohistochemistry in the adult cerebral cortex and hippocampus revealed lower protein expression of ER alpha compared with ER beta. Double immunostaining showed that during fetal life both ERs are expressed in neurons as well as in radial glia, although only ER alpha is expressed in the Cajal-Retzius neurons of the marginal zone. These observations demonstrate that the expression of ER alpha and ER beta displays different spatial-temporal patterns during human cortical and hippocampal development and suggest that both ERs may play distinct roles in several processes related to prenatal brain development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism*
  • Estrogen Receptor beta / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fetus
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogen Receptor beta