Over the past two decades, our understanding of estrogen receptor physiology in mammals widened considerably as we acquired a deeper appreciation of the roles of estrogen receptor alpha and beta (ERα and ERβ) in reproduction as well as in bone and metabolic homeostasis, depression, vascular disorders, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. In addition, our insights on ER transcriptional functions in cells increased considerably with the demonstration that ER activity is not strictly dependent on ligand availability. Indeed, unliganded ERs may be transcriptionally active and post-translational modifications play a major role in this context. The finding that several intracellular transduction molecules may regulate ER transcriptional programs indicates that ERs may act as a hub where several molecular pathways converge: this allows to maintain ER transcriptional activity in tune with all cell functions. Likely, the biological relevant role of ER was favored by evolution as a mean of integration between reproductive and metabolic functions. We here review the post-translational modifications modulating ER transcriptional activity in the presence or in the absence of estrogens and underline their potential role for ER tissue-specific activities. In our opinion, a better comprehension of the variety of molecular events that control ER activity in reproductive and non-reproductive organs is the foundation for the design of safer and more efficacious hormone-based therapies, particularly for menopause. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Translating Nuclear receptors from health to disease.
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