Developmental GnRH Signaling Is Not Required for Sexual Differentiation of Kisspeptin Neurons but Is Needed for Maximal Kiss1 Gene Expression in Adult Females

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Abstract

Kisspeptin, encoded by Kiss1, stimulates reproduction. In rodents, one Kiss1 population resides in the hypothalamic anterior ventral periventricular nucleus and neighboring rostral periventricular nucleus (AVPV/PeN). AVPV/PeN Kiss1 neurons are sexually dimorphic (greater in females), yet the mechanisms regulating their development and sexual differentiation remain poorly understood. Neonatal estradiol (E2) normally defeminizes AVPV/PeN kisspeptin neurons, but emerging evidence suggests that developmental E2 may also influence feminization of kisspeptin, although exactly when in development this process occurs is unknown. In addition, the obligatory role of GnRH signaling in governing sexual differentiation of Kiss1 or other sexually dimorphic traits remains untested. Here, we assessed whether AVPV/PeN Kiss1 expression is permanently impaired in adult hpg (no GnRH or E2) or C57BL6 mice under different E2 removal or replacement paradigms. We determined that 1) despite lacking GnRH signaling in development, marked sexual differentiation of Kiss1 still occurs in hpg mice; 2) adult hpg females, who lack lifetime GnRH and E2 exposure, have reduced AVPV/PeN Kiss1 expression compared to wild-type females, even after chronic adulthood E2 treatment; 3) E2 exposure to hpg females during the pubertal period does not rescue their submaximal adult Kiss1 levels; and 4) in C57BL6 females, removal of ovarian E2 before the pubertal or juvenile periods does not impair feminization and maximal adult AVPV/PeN Kiss1 expression nor the ability to generate LH surges, indicating that puberty is not a critical period for Kiss1 development. Thus, sexual differentiation still occurs without GnRH, but GnRH or downstream E2 signaling is needed sometime before juvenile development for complete feminization and maximal Kiss1 expression in adult females.

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