Neuroprotective actions of brain aromatase

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2009 Jul;30(2):106-18. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2009.04.016. Epub 2009 May 18.


The steroidal regulation of vertebrate neuroanatomy and neurophysiology includes a seemingly unending list of brain areas, cellular structures and behaviors modulated by these hormones. Estrogens, in particular have emerged as potent neuromodulators, exerting a range of effects including neuroprotection and perhaps neural repair. In songbirds and mammals, the brain itself appears to be the site of injury-induced estrogen synthesis via the rapid transcription and translation of aromatase (estrogen synthase) in astroglia. This induction seems to occur regardless of the nature and location of primary brain damage. The induced expression of aromatase apparently elevates local estrogen levels enough to interfere with apoptotic pathways, thereby decreasing secondary degeneration and ultimately lessening the extent of damage. There is even evidence suggesting that aromatization may affect injury-induced cytogenesis. Thus, aromatization in the brain appears to confer neuroprotection by an array of mechanisms that involve the deceleration and acceleration of degeneration and repair, respectively. We are only beginning to understand the factors responsible for the injury-induced transcription of aromatase in astroglia. In contrast, much of the manner in which local and circulating estrogens may achieve their neuroprotective effects has been elucidated. However, gaps in our knowledge include issues about the cell-specific regulation of aromatase expression, steroidal influences of aromatization distinct from estrogen formation, and questions about the role of constitutive aromatase in neuroprotection. Here we describe the considerable consensus and some interesting differences in knowledge gained from studies conducted on diverse animal models, experimental paradigms and preparations towards understanding the neuroprotective actions of brain aromatase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aromatase / genetics
  • Aromatase / metabolism*
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / physiology
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Cell Movement
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Neuroprotective Agents / metabolism*


  • Estrogens
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Aromatase