Neurosteroids are synthesized de novo in the brain, and the cerebellar Purkinje cell is a major site for neurosteroid formation. We have demonstrated that the Purkinje cell possesses intranuclear receptor for progesterone and actively produces progesterone de novo from cholesterol only during rat neonatal life, when cerebellar cortical formation occurs dramatically. We have further demonstrated that progesterone promotes dendritic growth, spinogenesis, and synaptogenesis via its receptor in this neuron in the neonate. On the other hand, estrogen may also play an important role in the process of cerebellar cortical formation, because the neonatal rat Purkinje cell possesses estrogen receptor (ER)β. However, estrogen formation in the neonatal cerebellum is still unclear. In this study, we therefore analyzed the biosynthesis and action of estrogen in Purkinje cells during neonatal life. RT-PCR-Southern and in situ hybridization analyses showed that Purkinje cells expressed the key enzyme of estrogen formation, cytochrome P450 aromatase, in neonatal rats. A specific enzyme immunoassay for estradiol further indicated that cerebellar estradiol concentrations in the neonate were significantly higher than those in the prepuberty and adult. Both in vitro and in vivo studies with newborn rats showed that estradiol promoted dose-dependent dendritic growth of Purkinje cells. Estradiol also increased the density of Purkinje dendritic spines. These effects were inhibited by the ER antagonist tamoxifen. These results suggest that estradiol in the developing Purkinje cell promotes dendritic growth and spinogenesis via ERβ in this neuron. Estradiol as well as progesterone may contribute to the growth of Purkinje cells during the cerebellar cortical formation.
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