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Gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons, NMDA receptors, and their regulation by steroid hormones across the reproductive life cycle

Brain Research Reviews
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0165-0173(01)00121-7
  • Gnrh
  • Nmida Receptor
  • Estrogen
  • Preoptic Area
  • Aging
  • Menopause
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Abstract The effects of ovarian steroid hormones on gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons have been studied for many years. In addition to their regulation by sex steroids, GnRH neurons are affected by inputs from neurotransmitters such as glutamate, acting via the NMDA receptor (NMDAR). Moreover, the NMDAR itself is subject to estrogen regulation. Thus, effects of ovarian steroids on GnRH neurons and the NMDAR, and their interactions, are under intense investigation. Messenger RNA and protein levels of GnRH and NMDAR subunits were measured in neuroendocrine brain regions in response to estrogen treatment, or across the reproductive cycle. Stimulatory effects of ovarian steroids on GnRH gene expression occur during the preovulatory LH surge in young adult rats, and this is abolished in middle-aged rats that have an attenuated LH surge. Effects of estrogen on GnRH neurons have also been studied in the ovariectomized, estrogen-primed rat, and while results vary between laboratories, there appear to be age-related changes in the sensitivity of GnRH neurons to estrogen. Estrogen also has effects on NMDAR mRNA levels. In intact rats, mRNA levels of NMDAR decrease during reproductive aging in the preoptic area, the site of GnRH perikarya, while in the medial basal hypothalamus-median eminence, the site of GnRH neuroterminals, levels of NMDAR subunit mRNAs increase with aging. Thus, glutamatergic inputs to GnRH perikarya and neuroterminals and other neuroendocrine cells may change during reproductive aging in intact rats. In ovariectomized rats, NMDAR subunit mRNA levels also undergo age-related changes, and respond to estrogen replacement in a subunit- and age-specific manner. Notably, there are major differences in NMDAR gene expression during aging between intact and ovariectomized rats, suggesting that ovarian factors other than estrogen play a role in the regulation of this receptor.

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