Diverse actions of ovarian steroids in the serotonin neural system

Cynthia L. Bethea, Nick Z. Lu, Chrisana Gundlah, John M. Streicher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

425 Scopus citations


All of the serotonin-producing neurons of the mammalian brain are located in 10 nuclei in the mid- and hindbrain regions. The cells of the rostal nuclei project to almost every area of the forebrain and regulate diverse neural processes from higher order functions in the prefrontal cortex such as integrative cognition and memory, to limbic system control of arousal and mood, to diencephalic functions such as pituitary hormone secretion, satiety, and sexual behavior. The more caudal serotonin neurons project to the spinal cord and interact with numerous autonomic and sensory systems. All of these neural functions are sensitive to the presence or absence of the ovarian hormones, estrogen and progesterone. We have shown that serotonin neurons in nonhuman primates contain estrogen receptor β and progestin receptors. Thus, they are targets for ovarian steroids which in turn modify gene expression. Any change in serotoninergic neural function could be manifested by a change in any of the projection target systems and in this manner, serotonin neurons integrate steroid hormone information and partially transduce their action in the CNS. This article reviews the work conducted in this laboratory on the actions of estrogens and progestins in the serotonin neural system of nonhuman primates. Comparisons to results obtained in other laboratory animal models are made when available and limited clinical data are referenced. The ability of estrogens and progestins to alter the function of the serotonin neural system at various levels provides a cellular mechanism whereby ovarian hormones can impact cognition, mood or arousal, hormone secretion, pain, and other neural circuits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-100
Number of pages60
JournalFrontiers in Neuroendocrinology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems


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