The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulates mammalian stress responses by secreting glucocorticoids. The magnitude of the response is in part determined by gender, for in response to a given Stressor, circulating glucocorticoids reach higher levels in female rats than in males. This gender difference could result from estrogen regulation of the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) promoter via either of its receptors: estrogen receptor (ER) α or ERβ. Immunocytochemistry revealed that a subset (12%) of medial parvocellular CRH neurons in the rat hypothalamus contain ERβ but not ERα. To determine whether ERs could regulate CRH promoter activity, we cotransfected cells with a CRH promoter construct and either ERα or individual ERβ isoforms. ERα weakly stimulated CRH promoter transcriptional activity in a ligand-independent manner. Conversely, all ERβ isoforms tested stimulated CRH promoter activity with different ligand profiles. ERβ1 and ERβ2δ3 displayed constitutive activity (ERβ1 more than ERβ2δ3). Ligand-dependent activity of β isoforms 1 and 2 was altered by an Exon3 splice variant (δ3) or by the additional 18 amino acids in the ligand-binding domain of ERβ2 isoforms. Lastly, we suggest that ER regulation of CRH takes place through an alternate pathway, one that requires protein-protein interactions with other transcription factors or their associated complexes. However, a pure ER-activator protein-1 alternate pathway does not appear to be involved.
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone
- Estrogen receptor α
- Estrogen receptor β