Estrogen involvement in social behavior in rodents: Rapid and long-term actions

Horm Behav. 2015 Aug:74:53-76. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.05.023. Epub 2015 Jun 27.


This article is part of a Special Issue ("Estradiol and cognition"). Estrogens have repeatedly been shown to influence a wide array of social behaviors, which in rodents are predominantly olfactory-mediated. Estrogens are involved in social behavior at multiple levels of processing, from the detection and integration of socially relevant olfactory information to more complex social behaviors, including social preferences, aggression and dominance, and learning and memory for social stimuli (e.g. social recognition and social learning). Three estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, ERβ, and the G protein-coupled ER 1 (GPER1), differently affect these behaviors. Social recognition, territorial aggression, and sexual preferences and mate choice, all requiring the integration of socially related olfactory information, seem to primarily involve ERα, with ERβ playing a lesser, modulatory role. In contrast, social learning consistently responds differently to estrogen manipulations than other social behaviors. This suggests differential ER involvement in brain regions important for specific social behaviors, such as the ventromedial and medial preoptic nuclei of the hypothalamus in social preferences and aggression, the medial amygdala and hippocampus in social recognition, and the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in social learning. While the long-term effects of ERα and ERβ on social behavior have been extensively investigated, our knowledge of the rapid, non-genomic, effects of estrogens is more limited and suggests that they may mediate some social behaviors (e.g. social learning) differently from long-term effects. Further research is required to compare ER involvement in regulating social behavior in male and female animals, and to further elucidate the roles of the more recently described G protein-coupled ERs, both the GPER1 and the Gq-mER.

Keywords: Aggression; Dominance; Estrogen receptor alpha; Estrogen receptor beta; GPER; GPR30; Mate choice; Odors; Social learning; Social recognition; Social transmission of food preference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estradiol Congeners / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology
  • Odorants
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology
  • Rodentia
  • Social Behavior*
  • Time Factors


  • Estradiol Congeners
  • Estrogens
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Estradiol