Surgical ovariectomy has been shown to reduce spine density in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells of rodents, and this reduction is reversed by 17β-estradiol (E2) treatment in a model of human estrogen replacement therapy. Here, we report reduction of spine density in apical dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal neurons of several neocortical regions that is reversed by subsequent E2 treatment in ovariectomized (OVX) female Thy1M-EGFP mice. We also found that OVX-associated reduction of spine density in somatosensory cortex was accompanied by a reduction in miniature EPSC (mEPSC) frequency (but not mIPSC frequency), indicating a change in functional synapses. OVX-associated spine loss in somatosensory cortex was also rescued by an agonist of the G-protein-linked estrogen receptor (GPER) but not by agonists of the classic estrogen receptors ERα/ERβ, whereas the opposite selectivity was found in area CA1. Acute treatment of neocortical slices with E2 also rescued the OVX-associated reduction in mEPSC frequency, which could be mimicked by a GPER agonist and abolished by a GPER antagonist. Time-lapse in vivo two-photon imaging showed that OVX-associated reduction in spine density is achieved by both an increase in spine loss rate and a decrease in spine gain rate and that subsequent rescue by E2 reversed both of these processes. Crucially, the spines added after E2 rescue were no more likely to reappear at or nearby the sites of pre-OVX spines than those in control mice treated with vehicle. Thus, a model of estrogen replacement therapy, although restoring spine density and dynamics, does not entirely restore functional connectivity.
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