Oestrogen is formed in the female dove brain. The aim of this study was to determine whether (a) the catalytic properties of the brain aromatase are similar to the ovarian enzyme and (b) aromatase activity in the female brain changes during the reproductive cycle and is influenced by steroids and environmental stimuli.
The results show that female preoptic aromatase has a higher substrate affinity than the enzyme in ovarian follicles (apparent Km: preoptic area, 7 nmol/l; ovarian follicles, 29 nmol/l), but a lower activity in the preoptic area (Vmax: preoptic area, 290 fmol/mg tissue per h; ovarian follicles, 843 fmol/mg tissue per h). In intact females with developing follicles, oestradiol-17β formation was higher in the posterior hypothalamus than the preoptic area. Females in a later stage of reproductive development (yolked follicles) had a different distribution of oestrogen formation with increased aromatase activity in the preoptic area. Preoptic and posterior hypothalamic aromatase activity of females paired with males for 10 days was positively correlated (r = 0·84, P = 0·0001; r = 0·75, P = 0·001 respectively) with ovarian development. Females with undeveloped ovaries which interacted with males had higher preoptic aromatase activity than visually isolated females with similar ovarian development, suggesting that behavioural stimuli have direct effects on brain aromatase activity which are independent of the ovary. Oestradiol benzoate treatment increased preoptic and posterior hypothalamic aromatase activity in intact and ovariectomized females, and testosterone propionate treatment increased anterior hypothalamic aromatase activity, but did not affect other areas, indicating that the distribution of induced aromatase activity is steroid-specific. Oestrogen treatment in ovariectomized or intact females did not replicate the maximal hypothalamic aromatase activity seen when the ovary contained yolked follicles.
We conclude that brain aromatase activity is related directly to ovarian condition during the reproductive cycle of the female dove. As in the male, steroids have a role in the regulation of oestrogen formation in the female hypothalamus; behavioural stimuli are also likely to be involved in the control of the brain enzyme.