Estrogen affects the electrophysiological properties of a number of hypothalamic neurons by modulating K+ channels via rapid membrane actions and/or changes in gene expression. The interaction between these pathways (membrane vs. transcription) ultimately determines the effects of estrogen on hypothalamic functions. Using suppression subtractive hybridization, we produced a cDNA library of estrogen-regulated, brain-specific guinea pig genes, which included subunits from three prominent K+ channels (KCNQ5, Kir2.4, Kv4.1, and Kvβ1) and signaling molecules that impact channel function including phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), protein kinase Cε(PKCε), cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA), A-kinase anchor protein (AKAP), phospholipase C (PLC), and calmodulin. Based on these findings, we dissected the arcuate nucleus from ovariectomized guinea pigs treated with estradiol benzoate (EB) or vehicle and analyzed mRNA expression using quantitative real-time PCR. We found that EB significantly increased the expression of KCNQ5 and Kv4.1 and decreased expression of KCNQ3 and AKAP in the rostral arcuate. In the caudal arcuate, EB increased KCNQ5, Kir2.4, Kv4.1, calmodulin, PKCε, PLCβ4, and PI3Kp55γ expression and decreased Kvβ1. The effects of estrogen could be mediated by estrogen receptor-α, which we found to be highly expressed in the guinea pig arcuate nucleus and, in particular, proopiomelanocortin neurons. In addition, single-cell RT-PCR analysis revealed that about 50% of proopiomelanocortin and neuropeptide Y neurons expressed KCNQ5, about 40% expressed Kir2.4, and about 60% expressed Kv4.1. Therefore, it is evident that the diverse effects of estrogen on arcuate neurons are mediated in part by regulation of K+ channel expression, which has the potential to affect profoundly neuronal excitability and homeostatic functions, especially when coupled with the rapid effects of estrogen on K+ channel function.
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