Age- and hormone-regulation of opioid peptides and synaptic proteins in the rat dorsal hippocampal formation

Tanya J. Williams, Katherine L. Mitterling, Louisa I. Thompson, Annelyn Torres-Reveron, Elizabeth M. Waters, Bruce S. McEwen, Andrea C. Gore, Teresa A. Milner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Circulating estrogen levels and hippocampal-dependent cognitive functions decline with aging. Moreover, the responses of hippocampal synaptic structure to estrogens differ between aged and young rats. We recently reported that estrogens increase levels of post-synaptic proteins, including PSD-95, and opioid peptides leu-enkephalin and dynorphin in the hippocampus of young animals. However, the influence of ovarian hormones on synaptic protein and opioid peptide levels in the aging hippocampus is understudied. Here, young (3- to 5-month-old), middle-aged (9- to 12-month-old), and aged (about 22-month-old) female rats were ovariectomized and then, 4 weeks later, subcutaneously implanted with a silastic capsule containing vehicle or 17β-estradiol. After 48 h, rats were subcutaneously injected with progesterone or vehicle and sacrificed 1 day later. Coronal sections through the dorsal hippocampus were processed for quantitative peroxidase immunohistochemistry of leu-enkephalin, dynorphin, synaptophysin, and PSD-95. With age, females showed opposing changes in leu-enkephalin and dynorphin levels in the mossy fiber pathway, particularly within the hilus, and regionally specific changes in synaptic protein levels. 17β-estradiol, with or without progesterone, altered leu-enkephalin levels in the dentate gyrus and synaptophysin levels in the CA1 of young but not middle-aged or aged females. Additionally, 17β-estradiol decreased synaptophysin levels in the CA3 of middle-aged females. Our results support and extend previous findings indicating 17β-estradiol modulation of hippocampal opioid peptides and synaptic proteins while demonstrating regional and age-specific effects. Moreover, they lend credence to the "window of opportunity" hypothesis during which hormone replacement can modulate hippocampal structure and circuitry to improve cognitive outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-85
Number of pages15
JournalBrain research
StatePublished - Mar 16 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Estrogen
  • Hippocampus
  • Opioids
  • PSD-95
  • Synaptophysin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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