OBJECTIVES: Local estrogen production in the brain regulates critical functions including neuronal development, gonadotropin secretion and sexual behavior. In the mouse brain, a 36 kb distal promoter (l.f) regulates the Cyp19a1 gene that encodes aromatase, the key enzyme for estrogen biosynthesis. In vitro, promoter l.f interacts with estrogen receptor alpha (Esr1) to mediate Cyp19a1 mRNA expression and enzyme activity in mouse hypothalamic neuronal cell lines. The in vivo mechanisms that control mammalian brain aromatase expression during fetal and adult development, however, are not thoroughly understood. Our aim was to elucidate the basis of the in vivo connection between Esr1 and Cyp19a1.