Aromatase activity in the rat brain: Hormonal regulation and sex differences

Charles E. Roselli, John A. Resko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


The intracellular conversion of testosterone to estradiol by the aromatase enzyme complex is an important step in many of the central actions of testosterone. In rats, estrogen given alone, or in combination with dihydrotestosterone, mimics most of the behavioral effects of testosterone, whereas treatment with antiestrogens or aromatase inhibitors block facilitation of copulatory behavior by testosterone. We used a highly sensitive in vitro radiometric assay to analyze the distribution and regulation of brain aromatase activity. Studies using micropunch dissections revealed that the highest levels of aromatase activity are found in an interconnected group of sexually dimorphic nuclei which constitutes a neural circuit important in the control of male sexual behavior. Androgen regulated aromatase activity in many diencephalic nucleic, including the medial preoptic nucleus, but not in the medial and cortical nuclei of the amygdala. Additional genetic evidence for both androgen-dependent and -independent control of brain AA was obtained by studies of androgen-insensitive testicular-feminized rats. These observations suggest that critical differences in enzyme responsiveness are present in different brain areas. Within several nuclei, sex differences in aromatase induction correlated with differences in nuclear androgen receptor concentrations suggesting that neural responsiveness to testosterone is sexually differentiated. Estradiol and dihydrotestosterone acted synergistically to regulate aromatase activity in the preoptic area. In addition, time-course studies showed that estrogen treatment increased the duration of nuclear androgen receptor occupation in the preoptic area of male rats treated with dihydrotestosterone. These results suggest possible ways that estrogens and androgens may interact at the cellular level to regulate neural function and behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)499-508
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number4-6
StatePublished - Mar 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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