Importance of Extranuclear Estrogen Receptor-α and Membrane G Protein–Coupled Estrogen Receptor in Pancreatic Islet Survival

  1. Suhuan Liu1,
  2. Cedric Le May1,
  3. Winifred P.S. Wong1,
  4. Robert D. Ward2,
  5. Deborah J. Clegg3,
  6. Marco Marcelli2,
  7. Kenneth S. Korach4 and
  8. Franck Mauvais-Jarvis1
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine, Northwestern University School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois;
  2. 2Department of Medicine, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas;
  3. 3Department of Internal Medicine, Touchstone Diabetes Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas;
  4. 4National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
  1. Corresponding author: Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, f-mauvais-jarvis{at}


OBJECTIVE We showed that 17β-estradiol (E2) favors pancreatic β-cell survival via the estrogen receptor-α (ERα) in mice. E2 activates nuclear estrogen receptors via an estrogen response element (ERE). E2 also activates nongenomic signals via an extranuclear form of ERα and the G protein–coupled estrogen receptor (GPER). We studied the contribution of estrogen receptors to islet survival.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS We used mice and islets deficient in estrogen receptor-α (αERKO−/−), estrogen receptor-β (βERKO−/−), estrogen receptor-α and estrogen receptor-β (αβERKO−/−), and GPER (GPERKO−/−); a mouse lacking ERα binding to the ERE; and human islets. These mice and islets were studied in combination with receptor-specific pharmacological probes.

RESULTS We show that ERα protection of islet survival is ERE independent and that E2 favors islet survival through extranuclear and membrane estrogen receptor signaling. We show that ERβ plays a minor cytoprotective role compared to ERα. Accordingly, βERKO−/− mice are mildly predisposed to streptozotocin-induced islet apoptosis. However, combined elimination of ERα and ERβ in mice does not synergize to provoke islet apoptosis. In αβERKO−/− mice and their islets, E2 partially prevents apoptosis suggesting that an alternative pathway compensates for ERα/ERβ deficiency. We find that E2 protection of islet survival is reproduced by a membrane-impermeant E2 formulation and a selective GPER agonist. Accordingly, GPERKO−/− mice are susceptible to streptozotocin-induced insulin deficiency.

CONCLUSIONS E2 protects β-cell survival through ERα and ERβ via ERE-independent, extra-nuclear mechanisms, as well as GPER-dependent mechanisms. The present study adds a novel dimension to estrogen biology in β-cells and identifies GPER as a target to protect islet survival.


  • The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

    • Received February 20, 2009.
    • Accepted June 26, 2009.
| Table of Contents