At menopause, the dramatic loss of ovarian estradiol (E2) necessitates the adaptation of estrogensensitive neurons in the hypothalamus to an estrogen-depleted environment. We developed a rat model to test the "critical window" hypothesis of the effects of timing and duration of E2 treatment after deprivation on the hypothalamic neuronal gene network in the arcuate nucleus and the medial preoptic area. Rats at 2 ages (reproductively mature or aging) were ovariectomized and given E2 or vehicle replacement regimes of differing timing and duration. Using a 48-gene quantitative low-density PCR array and weighted gene coexpression network analysis,weidentified gene modules differentially regulated by age, timing, and duration of E2 treatment. Of particular interest, E2 status differentially affected suites of genes in the hypothalamus involved in energy balance, circadian rhythms,andreproduction.In fact,E2statuswasthedominantfactorindetermininggenemodulesand hormone levels; age, timing, and duration had more subtle effects. Our results highlight the plasticity of hypothalamic neuroendocrine systems during reproductive aging and its surprising ability to adapt to diverse E2 replacement regimes.
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