Ovarian steroids modulate leu-enkephalin levels and target leu-enkephalinergic profiles in the female hippocampal mossy fiber pathway

Annelyn Torres-Reveron, Sana Khalid, Tanya J. Williams, Elizabeth M. Waters, Carrie T. Drake, Bruce S. McEwen, Teresa A. Milner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the hippocampal formation (HF), the enkephalin opioids and estrogen are each known to modulate learning and cognitive performance relevant to drug abuse. Within the HF, leu-enkephalin (LENK) is most prominent in the mossy fiber (MF) pathway formed by the axons of dentate gyrus (DG) granule cells. To examine the influence of ovarian steroids on MF pathway LENK levels, we used quantitative light microscopic immunocytochemistry to evaluate LENK levels in normal cycling rats and in estrogen-treated ovariectomized rats. Rats in estrus had increased levels of LENK-immunoreactivity (ir) in the DG hilus compared to rats in diestrus or proestrus. Rats in estrus and proestrus had higher levels of LENK-ir in CA3a-c compared to rats in diestrus. Ovariectomized (OVX) rats 24 h (but not 6 or 72 h) after estradiol benzoate (EB; 10 μg) administration had increased LENK-ir in the DG hilus and CA3c. Electron microscopy showed a larger proportion of LENK-labeled small terminals and axons in the DG hilus compared to CA3 which may have contributed to region-specific changes in LENK-ir densities. Next we evaluated the subcellular relationships of estrogen receptor (ER) α, ERβ and progestin receptor (PR) with LENK-labeled MF pathway profiles using dual-labeling electron microscopy. ERβ-ir colocalized in some LENK-labeled MF terminals and smaller terminals while PR-ir was mostly in CA3 axons, some of which also showed colocalization with LENK. ERα-ir was in dendritic spines, but no colocalization with LENK-labeled profiles was observed. The present studies indicate that estrogen can modulate LENK in subregions of the MF pathway in a dose-and time-dependent manner. These effects might be triggered by direct activation of ERβ or PR in LENK-containing terminals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-84
Number of pages15
JournalBrain research
StatePublished - Sep 26 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • CA3
  • Dentate gyrus
  • Estrogen
  • Estrous cycle
  • Immunoreactivity
  • Opioid
  • Progestin
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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