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Sex Matters

Researchers reveal a new pathway of synaptic modulation in the hippocampus exclusive to females.

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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EDITOR'S CHOICE IN NEUROBIOLOGY

The paper

G.Z. Huang, C.S. Woolley, “Estradiol acutely suppresses inhibition in the hippocampus through a sex-specific endocannabinoid and mGluR-dependent mechanism,” Neuron, 74:801-08, 2012.

The finding

The ovarian reproductive hormone estradiol (E2) is synthesized in the hippocampus of both males and females, where it is thought to affect hippocampal functions such as memory and mood-related behavior by increasing the excitability of neurons. To nail down just how this works, Guang Zhe Huang and Catherine Woolley of Northwestern University recorded electrical signals from rat hippocampal slices exposed to E2. They found that, in addition to its excitatory effects, E2 suppresses inhibitory synaptic transmission—as if E2 not only steps on the gas to activate neurons, but disables the brakes as well. The team also found that this pathway occurs only in females.

The surprise

E2 acts on inhibitory neurons by enlisting compounds called endocannabinoids. Surprisingly, the research team...

The implications

The next steps

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