The Neurosteroid Progesterone Underlies Estrogen Positive Feedback of the LH Surge

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2011 Dec 2:2:90. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2011.00090. eCollection 2011.


Our understanding the steroid regulation of neural function has rapidly evolved in the past decades. Not long ago the prevailing thoughts were that peripheral steroid hormones carried information to the brain which passively responded to these steroids. These steroid actions were slow, taking hours to days to be realized because they regulated gene expression. Over the past three decades, discoveries of new steroid receptors, rapid membrane-initiated signaling mechanisms, and de novo neurosteroidogenesis have shed new light on the complexity of steroids actions within the nervous system. Sexual differentiation of the brain during development occurs predominately through timed steroid-mediated expression of proteins and long term epigenetic modifications. In contrast across the estrous cycle, estradiol release from developing ovarian follicles initially increases slowly and then at proestrus increases rapidly. This pattern of estradiol release acts through both classical genomic mechanisms and rapid membrane-initiated signaling in the brain to coordinate reproductive behavior and physiology. This review focuses on recently discovered estrogen receptor-α membrane signaling mechanisms that estradiol utilizes during estrogen positive feedback to stimulate de novo progesterone synthesis within the hypothalamus to trigger the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge important for ovulation and estrous cyclicity. The activation of these signaling pathways appears to be coordinated by the rising and waning of estradiol throughout the estrous cycle and integral to the negative and positive feedback mechanisms of estradiol. This differential responsiveness is part of the timing mechanism triggering the LH surge.

Keywords: ERαΔ4; estrogen receptor; membrane estradiol signaling; receptor trafficking.