During the female reproductive cycle, the neuroendocrine action of estradiol switches from negative feedback to positive feedback to initiate the preovulatory GnRH and subsequent LH surges. Estrogen receptor-α (ERα) is required for both estradiol negative and positive feedback regulation of LH. ERα may signal through estrogen response elements (EREs) in DNA and/or via ERE-independent pathways. Previously, a knock-in mutant allele (ERα-/AA) that selectively restores ERE-independent signaling onto the ERα-/- background was shown to confer partial negative but not positive estradiol feedback on serum LH. The current study investigated the roles of the ERE-dependent and ERE-independent ERα pathways for estradiol feedback at the level of GnRH neuron firing activity. The above ERα genetic models were crossed with GnRH-green fluorescent protein mice to enable identification of GnRH neurons in brain slices. Targeted extracellular recordings were used to monitor GnRH neuron firing activity using an ovariectomized, estradioltreated mouse model that exhibits diurnal switches between negative and positive feedback. In wild-type mice, GnRH neuron firing decreased in response to estradiol during negative feedback and increased during positive feedback. In contrast, both positive and negative responses to estradiol were absent in GnRH neurons from ERα-/- and ERα-/AA mice. ERE-dependent signaling is thus required to increase GnRH neuron firing to generate a GnRH/LH surge. Furthermore, ERE-dependent and -independent ERα signaling pathways both appear necessary to mediate estradiol negative feedback on serum LH levels, suggesting central and pituitary estradiol feedback may use different combinations of ERα signaling pathways.
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