Oestrogen receptors enhance dopamine neurone survival in rat midbrain

J Neuroendocrinol. 2010 Apr;22(4):226-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2010.01964.x. Epub 2010 Jan 27.


Previous findings in our laboratory and elsewhere have shown that ovariectomy of rats in adulthood attenuates cocaine-stimulated locomotor behaviour. Ovarian hormones enhance both cocaine-stimulated behaviour and increase dopamine overflow after psychomotor stimulants. The present study aimed to determine whether ovarian hormones have these effects in part by maintaining dopamine neurone number in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) and to investigate the roles of specific oestrogen receptors (ERs) in the maintenance of mesencephalic dopamine neurones. To accomplish this goal, we used unbiased stereological techniques to estimate the number of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive (TH-IR) cell bodies in midbrain regions of intact, ovariectomised and hormone-replaced female rats and mice. Animals received active or sham gonadectomy on postnatal day 60 and received vehicle, 17beta-oestradiol (E(2)) or selective ER agonists propyl-pyrazole-triol (PPT, ERalpha) or diarylpropionitrile (DPN, ERbeta) for 1 month post-surgery. In both rats and mice, ovariectomy reduced the number of TH-IR cells in the SNpc and VTA. Replacement with E(2), PPT or DPN prevented or attenuated the loss observed with ovariectomy in both rats and mice. An additional study using ER knockout mice revealed that adult female mice lacking ERalpha had fewer TH-IR cells in midbrain regions than wild-type mice, whereas mice lacking ERbeta had TH-IR cell counts comparable to wild-type. These findings suggest that, although both ER subtypes play a role in the maintenance of TH-IR cell number in the SNpc and VTA, ERalpha may play a more significant role.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Estradiol / agonists
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Ovariectomy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Estradiol
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine