The recent discovery that an additional estrogen receptor (ERbeta) subtype is present in many rat, mouse, and human tissues has advanced our understanding of the mechanisms underlying estrogen signalling. Ligand-binding experiments have shown specific binding of 17beta-estradiol by ERbeta with an affinity similar to that of ERalpha. The rat tissue distribution and/or the relative level of ERalpha and ERbeta expression seems to be quite different, i.e., moderate to high expression in uterus, testis, pituitary, ovary, kidney, epididymis, and adrenal for ERalpha and prostate, ovary, lung, bladder, brain, bone, uterus, and testis for ERbeta. Within the same organ it often appears that the ER subtypes are expressed in different cell types, supporting the hypothesis that the ER's may have different biological functions. The cell type-specific expression of ERalpha and ERbeta in rat prostate, testis, uterus, ovary, and brain and the distribution of ERbeta mRNA in the ERalpha knock-out mouse brain are discussed. The discovery of ERbeta suggests the existence of two previously unrecognized pathways of estrogen signalling; via the ERbeta subtype in tissues exclusively expressing this subtype and via the formation of heterodimers in tissues expressing both ER subtypes. The existence of two ER subtypes, their differential expression pattern, and different actions on certain response elements could provide explanations for the striking species-, cell-, and promoter-specific actions of estrogens and antiestrogens. The challenge for the future is to unravel the detailed physiological role of each subtype and to use this knowledge to develop the next generation of ER-targeted drugs with improved therapeutic profiles in the treatment or prevention of osteoporosis, cardiovascular system disorders, Alzheimer's disease, breast cancer, and disorders of the urogenital tract.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.