Anecdotal and scientific evidence suggest that the sex hormone estrogen provides significant health benefits in women. Women have higher estrogen levels than men. Circulating estrogen reaches its highest level during the reproductive period and steadily declines with the onset of menopause. The role of estrogen and estrogen receptors in both cellular physiology and pathophysiology has been controversial. Estrogen has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, which preserve cell viability during cardiovascular incidents, but it enhances disease progression in the context of breast cancer. Estrogen mediates these responses via activation of estrogen receptor subtypes located in the cell membrane, nucleus, and mitochondrion. Further, transcription of nuclear and mitochondrial genes by estrogen yields products that play an important role in regulating mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are part of a highly dynamic network and undergo fission and fusion, produce cellular energy, adenosine 5′ triphosphate (ATP), and regulate cell death. Herein, we review the cell and receptor specific effects of estrogen on mitochondrial structure, function, and cell death under normal physiological conditions and in the context of cardiovascular disease, inflammation, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Further research is needed to elucidate the specific role of estrogenic control of mitochondria in health and disease.
Part of the book: Mitochondrial Diseases