Despite a strong male bias in both basic and clinical research, it is becoming increasingly accepted that the ovarian hormone estradiol plays an important role in the control of food intake in females. Estradiol's feeding inhibitory effect occurs in a variety of species, including women, but the underlying mechanism has been studied most extensively in rats and mice. Accordingly, much of the data reviewed here is derived from the rodent literature. Adult female rats display a robust decrease in food intake during estrus and ovariectomy promotes hyperphagia and weight gain, both of which can be prevented by a physiological regimen of estradiol treatment. Behavioral analyses have demonstrated that the feeding inhibitory effect of estradiol is mediated entirely by a decrease in meal size. In rats, estradiol appears to exert this action indirectly via interactions with peptide and neurotransmitter systems implicated in the direct control of meal size. Here, I summarize research examining the neurobiological mechanism underlying estradiol's anorexigenic effect. Central estrogen receptors (ERs) have been implicated and activation of one ER subtype in particular, ERα, appears both sufficient and necessary for the estrogenic control of food intake. Future studies are necessary to identify the critical brain areas and intracellular signaling pathways responsible for estradiol's anorexigenic effect. A clearer understanding of the estrogenic control of food intake is prerequisite to elucidating the biological factors that contribute to obesity and eating disorders, both of which are more prevalent in women, compared to men.
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