The primary female sex hormones, estrogens, are responsible for the control of functions of the female reproductive system, as well as the development of secondary sexual characteristics that appear during puberty and sexual maturity. Estrogens exert their actions by binding to specific receptors, the estrogen receptors (ERs), which in turn activate transcriptional processes and/or signaling events that result in the control of gene expression. These actions can be mediated by direct binding of estrogen receptor complexes to specific sequences in gene promoters (genomic effects), or by mechanisms that do not involve direct binding to DNA (non-genomic effects). Whether acting via direct nuclear effects, indirect non-nuclear actions, or a combination of both, the effects of estrogens on gene expression are controlled by highly regulated complex mechanisms. In this chapter, we summarize the knowledge gained in the past 60years since the discovery of the estrogen receptors on the mechanisms governing estrogen-mediated gene expression. We provide an overview of estrogen biosynthesis, and we describe the main mechanisms by which the female sex hormone controls gene transcription in different tissues and cell types. Specifically, we address the molecular events governing regulation of gene expression via the nuclear estrogen receptors (ERα, and ERβ) and the membrane estrogen receptor (GPER1). We also describe mechanisms of cross-talk between signaling cascades activated by both nuclear and membrane estrogen receptors. Finally, we discuss natural compounds that are able to target specific estrogen receptors and their implications for human health and medical therapeutics.
Keywords: G-protein coupled estrogen receptor; Gene expression; Nuclear estrogen receptor; Steroidogenesis; Transcriptional control.
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