Rapid Effects of Estradiol on Aggression in Birds and Mice: The Fast and the Furious

Sarah A. Heimovics, Brian C. Trainor, Kiran K. Soma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Across invertebrates and vertebrates, steroids are potent signaling molecules that affect nearly every cell in the organism, including cells of the nervous system. Historically, researchers have focused on the genomic (or "nuclear-initiated") effects of steroids. However, all classes of steroids also have rapid non-genomic (or "membrane-initiated") effects, although there is far less basic knowledge of these non-genomic effects. In particular, steroids synthesized in the brain ("neurosteroids") have genomic and non-genomic effects on behavior. Here, we review evidence that estradiol has rapid effects on aggression, an important social behavior, and on intracellular signaling cascades in relevant regions of the brain. In particular, we focus on studies of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and Peromyscus mice, in which estradiol has rapid behavioral effects under short photoperiods only. Furthermore, in captive Peromyscus, estrogenic compounds (THF-diols) in corncob bedding profoundly alter the rapid effects of estradiol. Environmental factors in the laboratory, such as photoperiod, diet, and bedding, are critical variables to consider in experimental design. These studies are consistent with the hypothesis that locally-produced steroids are more likely than systemic steroids to act via non-genomic mechanisms. Furthermore, these studies illustrate the dynamic balance between genomic and non-genomic signaling for estradiol, which is likely to be relevant for other steroids, behaviors, and species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-293
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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