Estradiol modulates the efficacy of synaptic inhibition by decreasing the dwell time of GABA A receptors at inhibitory synapses

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Oct 31;114(44):11763-11768. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1705075114. Epub 2017 Oct 16.


Estrogen plays a critical role in many physiological processes and exerts profound effects on behavior by regulating neuronal excitability. While estrogen has been established to exert effects on dendritic morphology and excitatory neurotransmission its role in regulating neuronal inhibition is poorly understood. Fast synaptic inhibition in the adult brain is mediated by specialized populations of γ-c aA receptors (GABAARs) that are selectively enriched at synapses, a process dependent upon their interaction with the inhibitory scaffold protein gephyrin. Here we have assessed the role that estradiol (E2) plays in regulating the dynamics of GABAARs and stability of inhibitory synapses. Treatment of cultured cortical neurons with E2 reduced the accumulation of GABAARs and gephyrin at inhibitory synapses. However, E2 exposure did not modify the expression of either the total or the plasma membrane GABAARs or gephyrin. Mechanistically, single-particle tracking revealed that E2 treatment selectively reduced the dwell time and thereby decreased the confinement of GABAARs at inhibitory synapses. Consistent with our cell biology measurements, we observed a significant reduction in amplitude of inhibitory synaptic currents in both cultured neurons and hippocampal slices exposed to E2, while their frequency was unaffected. Collectively, our results suggest that acute exposure of neurons to E2 leads to destabilization of GABAARs and gephyrin at inhibitory synapses, leading to reductions in the efficacy of GABAergic inhibition via a postsynaptic mechanism.

Keywords: estrogen; inhibition; synapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrier Proteins / pharmacology
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gephyrin
  • Estradiol