Aromatase immunoreactivity in axon terminals of the vertebrate brain. An immunocytochemical study on quail, rat, monkey and human tissues

Neuroendocrinology. 1996 Feb;63(2):149-55. doi: 10.1159/000126951.


Intraneuronal production of estradiol from testosterone has been shown to play a pivotal role in gender-specific brain development of most vertebrates, and to participate in numerous functions of the adult central nervous system. Previous biochemical and morphological approaches demonstrated that estrogen synthetase (aromatase) is present in specific limbic and hypothalamic structures. On the other hand, less attention has been paid to revealing its subcellular distribution. The possibility of aromatase presence in axonal processes has been indicated by recent biochemical and morphological observations suggesting new insights for the role of aromatase in neural functions. The objective of the present study was to provide morphological evidence for the subcellular location of aromatase in neurons of different vertebrate species including Japanese quail, rat, monkey, and human. Immunocytochemistry using a purified polyclonal antiserum against human placental aromatase localized immunoreactivity to hypothalamic and limbic cell groups in all of these species. Light and electron microscopic examination of vibratome sections revealed the presence of aromatase immunoreactivity throughout the neuronal perikarya, including dendrites and axonal processes. In each species there were numerous boutons which contained labeled small clear synaptic vesicles. Many of these axon terminals formed synapses with immuno-negative and immuno-positive dendrites and perikarya. This study furnishes the first immunolocalization of aromatase in the brains of two primate species, humans and monkeys. The provision of further evidence for estrogen synthesis in axons and axon terminals may help resolve apparent differences between the measurement of aromatase activity and the lack of aromatase-immunopositive cell bodies in previous studies. The present findings may be coupled with recent evidence regarding the molecular biology and the diversity of functional properties of P450 aromatase to indicate previously unexpected effects of brain aromatase at the synaptic level.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Aromatase / metabolism*
  • Axons / enzymology
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Coturnix
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Middle Aged
  • Presynaptic Terminals / enzymology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Tissue Fixation


  • Aromatase