Estrogen receptors colocalize with low-affinity nerve growth factor receptors in cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain.
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The rodent and primate basal forebrain is a target of a family of endogenous peptide signaling molecules, the neurotrophins--nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and neurotrophin 3--and of the gonadal steroid hormone estrogen, both of which have been implicated in cholinergic function. To investigate whether or not these ligands may act on the same neurons in the developing and adult rodent basal forebrain, we combined autoradiography with 125I-labeled estrogen and either nonisotopic in situ hybridization histochemistry or immunohistochemistry. We now report colocalization of intranuclear estrogen binding sites with the mRNA and immunoreactive protein for the low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor, which binds all three neurotrophins, and for the cholinergic marker enzyme choline acetyltransferase (acetyl-CoA:choline O-acetyltransferase, EC 18.104.22.168). Colocalization of estrogen and low-affinity nerve growth factor receptors implies that their ligands may act on the same neuron, perhaps synergistically, to regulate the expression of specific genes or gene networks that may influence neuronal survival, differentiation, regeneration, and plasticity. That cholinergic neurons in brain regions subserving cognitive functions may be regulated not only by the neurotrophins but also by estrogen may have considerable relevance for the development and maintenance of neural substrates of cognition. If estrogen-neurotrophin interactions are important for survival of target neurons, then clinical conditions associated with estrogen deficiency could contribute to the atrophy or death of these neurons. These findings have implications for the subsequent decline in those differentiated neural functions associated with aging and Alzheimer disease.