Estradiol regulation of progesterone synthesis in the brain

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2008 Aug 13;290(1-2):44-50. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2008.04.016. Epub 2008 May 3.


Steroidogenesis is now recognized as a global phenomenon in the brain, but how it is regulated and its relationship to circulating steroids of peripheral origin have remained more elusive issues. Neurosteroids, steroids synthesized de novo in nervous tissue, have a large range of actions in the brain, but it is only recently that the role of neuroprogesterone in the regulation of arguably the quintessential steroid-dependent neural activity, regulation of the reproduction has been appreciated. Circuits involved in controlling the LH surge and sexual behaviors were thought to be influenced by estradiol and progesterone synthesized in the ovary and perhaps the adrenal. It is now apparent that estradiol of ovarian origin regulates the synthesis of neuroprogesterone, and it is the locally produced neuroprogesterone that is involved in the initiation of the LH surge and subsequent ovulation. In this model, estradiol induces the transcription of progesterone receptors while stimulating synthesis of neuroprogesterone. Although the complete signaling cascade has not been elucidated, many of the features have been characterized. The synthesis of neuroprogesterone occurs primarily in astrocytes and requires the interaction of membrane-associated estrogen receptor-alpha with metabotropic glutamate receptor-1a. This G protein-coupled receptor activates a phospholipase C that in turn increases inositol trisphosphate (IP3) levels mediating the release of intracellular stores of Ca2+ via an IP3 receptor gated Ca2+ channel. The large increase in free cytoplasmic Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) stimulates the synthesis of progesterone, which can then diffuse out of the astrocyte and activate estradiol-induced progesterone receptors in local neurons to trigger the neural cascade to produce the LH surge. Thus, it is a cooperative action of astrocytes and neurons that is needed for estrogen positive feedback and stimulation of the LH surge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Estradiol / metabolism*
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Humans
  • Menopause
  • Progesterone / biosynthesis*


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol