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

Synapses are junctions in the brain across which neurons (cells traditionally viewed as the most important in the central nervous system) use electrical or chemical signals to communicate with another cell downstream.

Saldanha and his colleagues originally discovered synaptocrine estrogen synthesis and signaling in 2005. They used a special protein they developed that detects aromatase, a complex enzyme key to estrogen synthesis, and an electron microscope to figure out which specific cells of the songbirds' brains were capable of making estrogen.

When they saw the protein marking the synapses, they were surprised.

"This was startling. There wasn't even a name for this in the literature. We had to come up with one to describe it. We called it synaptocrine signaling," said Saldanha, whose research into the synaptic localization of aromatase and estrogen synthesis has been funded since 2002 by more than $3 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Synaptocrine signaling is a highly specific form of neuro and hormonal communication. A specific target (a particular neuron) can create and feed high levels of estrogen to another, specific neuron with which it needs to communicateand here is the key partto the exclusion of other neighboring cells around the "target" neuron.

To make sure their findings were valid, Saldanha and his colleagues did the experiment again and even had someone else conduct it. When all of the experiments ended with the same results, Saldanha and his colleagues submitted their paper to Endocrine Reviews, the Endocrine Society's research journal, where it was published.

An Earlier Discovery

Through earlier research, Saldanha uncovered yet another way songbird brains can synthesize estrogen and it presents important implications for research into degenerative brain diseases and conditions in humans such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and strokes.
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