Neuron-Derived Estrogen Is Critical for Astrocyte Activation and Neuroprotection of the Ischemic Brain

J Neurosci. 2020 Sep 16;40(38):7355-7374. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0115-20.2020. Epub 2020 Aug 19.


17β-Estradiol (E2) is produced from androgens via the action of the enzyme aromatase. E2 is known to be made in neurons in the brain, but the functions of neuron-derived E2 in the ischemic brain are unclear. Here, we used a forebrain neuron-specific aromatase KO (FBN-ARO-KO) mouse model to deplete neuron-derived E2 in the forebrain and determine its roles after global cerebral ischemia. We demonstrated that ovariectomized female FBN-ARO-KO mice exhibited significantly attenuated astrocyte activation, astrocytic aromatization, and decreased hippocampal E2 levels compared with FLOX mice. Furthermore, FBN-ARO-KO mice had exacerbated neuronal damage and worse cognitive dysfunction after global cerebral ischemia. Similar results were observed in intact male mice. RNA-seq analysis revealed alterations in pathways and genes associated with astrocyte activation, neuroinflammation, and oxidative stress in FBN-ARO-KO mice. The compromised astrocyte activation in FBN-ARO-KO mice was associated with robust downregulation of the astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factors, BDNF and IGF-1, as well as the astrocytic glutamate transporter, GLT-1. Νeuronal FGF2, which acts in a paracrine manner to suppress astrocyte activation, was increased in FBN-ARO-KO neurons. Interestingly, blocking FGF2 signaling by central injection of FGFR3-neutralizing antibody was able to reverse the diminishment in neuroprotective astrocyte reactivity, and attenuate neuronal damage in FBN-ARO-KO mice. Moreover, in vivo E2 replacement suppressed FGF2 signaling and rescued the compromised reactive astrogliosis and cognitive deficits. Collectively, our data provide novel genetic evidence for a beneficial role of neuron-derived E2 in astrocyte activation, neuroprotection, and cognitive preservation following ischemic injury to the brain.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Following cerebral ischemia, astrocytes become highly reactive and can exert neuroprotection through the release of neurotrophic factors and clearance of neurotoxic glutamate. The current study advances our understanding of this process by demonstrating that neuron-derived 17β-estradiol (E2) is neuroprotective and critical for induction of reactive astrocytes and their ability to produce astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factors, BDNF and IGF-1, and the glutamate transporter, GLT-1 after ischemic brain damage. These beneficial effects of neuron-derived E2 appear to be due, at least in part, to suppression of neuronal FGF2 signaling, which is a known suppressor of astrocyte activation. These findings suggest that neuron-derived E2 is neuroprotective after ischemic brain injury via a mechanism that involves suppression of neuronal FGF2 signaling, thereby facilitating astrocyte activation.

Keywords: 17β-estradiol; aromatase; astrocyte; cerebral ischemia; neuroprotection; stroke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aromatase / genetics
  • Aromatase / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Brain Ischemia / metabolism*
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal / cytology
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 2 / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Gliosis / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Paracrine Communication*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Estrogens
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 2
  • Slc1a2 protein, mouse
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Aromatase