Estrogen-growth factor interactions and their contributions to neurological disorders

Headache. 2008 Jul;48 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S77-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2008.01200.x.


Estrogen has diverse and powerful effects in the brain, including actions on neurons, glia, and the vasculature. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are many changes in the female brain as serum estradiol levels rise and fall during the normal ovarian cycle. At times of life when estradiol levels change dramatically, such as puberty, postpartum, or menopause, there also are dramatic changes in the central nervous system. Changes that occur because of fluctuations in serum estrogen levels are potentially relevant to neurological disorders because symptoms often vary with the time of the ovarian cycle. Moreover, neurological disorders (eg, seizures and migraine) often increase in frequency in women when estradiol levels change. In this review, the contribution of 2 growth factors targeted by estrogen, the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), will be discussed. Estrogen-sensitive response elements are present on the genes for both BDNF and VEGF, and they are potent modulators of neuronal, glial, and vascular function, making them logical candidates to mediate the multitude of effects of estrogen. In addition, BDNF induces neuropeptide Y, which has diverse actions that are relevant to estrogen action and to the same neurological disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology*
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Neuropeptide Y / physiology
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Estrogens
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Estradiol