Protective actions of ovarian hormones in the serotonin system of macaques

Cynthia L. Bethea, Arubala P. Reddy, Yukari Tokuyama, Jessica A. Henderson, Fernanda B. Lima

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The serotonin neurons of the dorsal and medial raphe nuclei project to all areas of the forebrain and play a key role in mood disorders. Hence, any loss or degeneration of serotonin neurons could have profound ramifications. In a monkey model of surgical menopause with hormone replacement and no neural injury, E and P decreased gene expression in the dorsal raphe nucleus of c-jun n-terminal kinase (JNK1) and kynurenine mono-oxygenase (KMO) that promote cell death. In concert, E and P increased gene expression of superoxide dismutase (SOD1), VEGF, and caspase inhibitory proteins that promote cellular resilience in the dorsal raphe nucleus. Subsequently, we showed that ovarian steroids inhibit pivotal genes in the caspase-dependent and caspase-independent pathways in laser-captured serotonin neurons including apoptosis activating factor (Apaf1), apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) and second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases (Smac/Diablo). SOD1 was also increased specifically in laser-captured serotonin neurons. Examination of protein expression in the dorsal raphe block revealed that JNK1, phosphoJNK1, AIF and the translocation of AIF from the mitochondria to the nucleus decreased with hormone therapy, whereas pivotal execution proteins in the caspase pathway were unchanged. In addition, cyclins A, B, D1 and E were inhibited, which would prevent re-entry into the cell cycle and catastrophic death. These data indicated that in the absence of gross injury to the midbrain, ovarian steroids inhibit the caspase-independent pathway and cell cycle initiation in serotonin neurons. To determine if these molecular actions prevented cellular vulnerability or death, we examined DNA fragmentation in the dorsal raphe nucleus with the TUNEL assay (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase nick end labeling). Ovarian steroids significantly decreased the number of TUNEL-positive cells in the dorsal raphe. Moreover, TUNEL staining prominently colocalized with TPH immunostaining, a marker for serotonin neurons. In summary, ovarian steroids increase the cellular resilience of serotonin neurons and may prevent serotonin neuron death in women facing decades of life after menopause. The survival of serotonin neurons would support cognition and mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-238
Number of pages27
JournalFrontiers in Neuroendocrinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Apoptosis-inducing factor
  • Estrogen
  • JNK1
  • Laser capture
  • Mitochondria
  • Neuroprotection
  • Progesterone
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems


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