Although estrogen is known to exert beneficial effects on Alzheimer's disease, its underlying cellular mechanisms have not been clear. In this study we investigated whether or not neuroprotective effects of estrogen are mediated by estrogen receptors (ERs). Treatment of estrogen (1.8 nM) reduced beta-amyloid (A beta)-induced death of ER-expressing W4 cells. This effect of estrogen was blocked by a specific ER blocker ICI 182,780. When estrogen was treated to HT22 cells, which lack functional ERs, A beta -induced cell death was not affected. Transfection of HT22 cells with human ER alpha, but not ERP, restored protective action of estrogen against A beta. Hoechst staining revealed that estrogen protected ER alpha -expressing cells by blocking A beta -induced apoptosis. These results indicate that estrogen blocks A beta -induced cell death via ER alpha -dependent pathways. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.