While the discovery is interesting, it could also pave the way for new treatments for conditions related to hormonal imbalances.
The scientists found that the hypothalamus can directly control reproductive function in monkeys and probably performs the same action in women.
Scientists knew that the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) has a role in regulating reproduction and menstrual cycles, but they didn't know that it could produce and release estrogen. Most types of estrogen, such as estradiol, form in the ovaries. Estradiol affects everything from your weight to your memory capabilities.
Dr. Ei Terasawa, professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said the findings surprised researchers.
"These findings not only shift the concept of how reproductive function and behavior is regulated but have real implications for understanding and treating a number of diseases and disorders," Terasawa said.
Diseases and conditions that may be linked to estrogen imbalances include Alzheimer's disease, stroke, depression and other autoimmune disorders. This means that the hypothalamus may become a focus area to target drugs and other treatments, she said.
"Results such as these can point us in new research directions and find new diagnostic tools and treatments for neuroendocrine diseases," Terasawa added.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
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