Ovarian steroid regulation of serotonin-1A autoreceptor messenger RNA expression in the dorsal raphe of rhesus macaques

M. Pecins-Thompson, C. L. Bethea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


It is widely hypothesized that ovarian steroids act on serotonin neurons to modulate mood and alter neuroendocrine function in women. However, information is needed on the molecular consequences of estrogen and progesterone action in serotonin neurons. This study examined the effect of estrogen, with and without progesterone, on the expression of messenger RNA for the serotonin-1A autoreceptor in monkeys using in situ hybridization and a 432-bp serotonin-1A probe generated with polymerase chain reaction. Monkeys were spayed/ovariectomized (control; n=4), estrogen treated (28 days, n=4) and estrogen+progesterone treated (14 days estrogen+14 days estrogen+progesterone, n=4). Perfusion-fixed midbrain sections containing the dorsal raphe (10 μm) were hybridized at 60°C with 35S antisense complementary RNA. After a final wash in 0.1 x standard saline citrate at 70°C, sections were apposed to βmax film for four days and then emulsion fixed. Adjacent sections were immunostained for serotonin to confirm the location of the dorsal raphe. Densitometric analysis of autoradiographs with gray level thresholding was performed at five levels of the dorsal raphe. The number of pixels exceeding background in defined areas was obtained (pixel number), as well as the mean optical density. In the estrogen- and the estrogen+progesterone-treated groups compared to the control group, there was a 38% and 43% decrease in serotonin-1A messenger RNA signal, respectively, represented by pixel number (P<0.05). Mean optical density for serotonin-1A was significantly decreased by estrogen treatment (21%; P<0.05) and then further decreased with the addition of progesterone treatment (45%; P<0.01). Also, the number of positive cells and the grains/cell were counted. There were significantly fewer serotonin-1A messenger RNA-positive cells in the serotonergic neurons of the dorsal raphe in estrogen- and estrogen+progesterone-treated groups (P<0.001) than controls. There were significantly lower single-cell levels of serotonin-1A messenger RNA in serotonergic neurons of the dorsal raphe only in the estrogen+progesterone- treated group (P<0.05). These results suggest that estrogen reduces serotonin-1A gene expression and that the addition of progesterone further reduces serotonin-1A gene expression in non-human primates. If the changes in gene expression are manifested by alterations in protein expression, then, together, these actions of estrogen and progesterone could increase serotonin neurotransmission, thereby elevating mood and/or altering neuroendocrine functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-277
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • 5-HT(1A) autoreceptor
  • Dorsal raphe
  • Estrogen
  • Primate
  • Progesterone
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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