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Songbird brain synapses and glial cells capable of synthesizing estrogen
Date:1/3/2012

Colin Saldanha, a biology professor at American University in Washington, D.C., has always been intrigued by the hormone estrogen. Specifically, how the hormone that does so much (for example, it promotes sexual behavior in women but can also increase susceptibility to seizures) does not cause major cross circuit meltdowns.

"In the extreme case, once every 28 days, women should be having seizuresand when they do, it's a condition called Catamenial Epilepsybut that's obviously not the norm and there's the mystery," Saldanha said. "Somehow, the vertebrate body has figured out a way to produce and provide estrogen to precisely the right part of the body at precisely the right time."

To attempt to find out how the bodies of animals and humans can do this, Saldanha has been studying the brains of songbirdsspecifically, adult male zebra finches. Why adult male zebra finches? Male zebra finches sing, but the females do not. During the springmating season, when males court prospective mates with their songsparts of the male birds' brains nearly double in size only to shrink back to normal size in the fall when mating season has ended. Estrogen is behind the phenomenon.

Discovery Leads to a New Term

Previous research on hormone synthesis outlines three ways the body makes and delivers estrogen to different parts:

  • Endocrine signaling (estrogen produced in the ovaries and made available to the entire body through the bloodstream);
  • Paracrine signaling (estrogen made in the brain but stays local/ in the area where it was made);
  • And autocrine signaling (estrogen made in an individual cell for use in that cell).

Recently, Saldanha and colleagues from the University of MassachussettsAmherst and the University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, published research that introduced a fourth and new method of estrogen synthesis to the scientific community: synaptocrine signaling, or at the synapse.


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Source:Eurekalert

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