Estrogens regulate life and death in mitochondria.
Estrogens coordinate and integrate cellular metabolism and mitochondrial activities by direct and indirect mechanisms mediated by differential expression and localization of estrogen receptors (ER) in a cell-specific manner. Estrogens regulate transcription and cell signaling pathways that converge to stimulate mitochondrial function- including mitochondrial bioenergetics, mitochondrial fusion and fission, calcium homeostasis, and antioxidant defense against free radicals. Estrogens regulate nuclear gene transcription by binding and activating the classical genomic estrogen receptors α and β (ERα and ERβ) and by activating plasma membrane-associated mERα, mERβ, and G-protein coupled ER (GPER, GPER1). Localization of ERα and ERβ within mitochondria and in the mitochondrial membrane provides additional mechanisms of regulation. Here we review the mechanisms of rapid and longer-term effects of estrogens and selective ER modulators (SERMs, e.g., tamoxifen (TAM)) on mitochondrial biogenesis, morphology, and function including regulation of Nuclear Respiratory Factor-1 (NRF-1, NRF1) transcription. NRF-1 is a nuclear transcription factor that promotes transcription of mitochondrial transcription factor TFAM (mtDNA maintenance factorFA) which then regulates mtDNA-encoded genes. The nuclear effects of estrogens on gene expression directly controlling mitochondrial biogenesis, oxygen consumption, mtDNA transcription, and apoptosis are reviewed.