Hypothalamic Control of Anterior Pituitary Function: A History

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The concept of neurohumoral control of anterior pituitary function championed by Geoffrey Harris was based upon clinical and biological observation backed by rigorous experimental testing. The areas of the brain involved in the control of gonadotrophic hormone synthesis and release were identified by electrical stimulation, lesioning and fibre tract cutting. The medial preoptic area (MPOA) proved to be a major integrating centre, with axon terminals from this region terminating at the median eminence releasing factors into the portal vessels to give a direct route from brain to pituitary. It took over a decade before the gonadotrophic hormone-releasing hormone (GnRH) was isolated, sequenced and synthesised. With antibodies raised against this peptide, the MPOA was identified as a site rich in GnRH neurones and the hormone was detected at high levels in portal blood extracts. A natural knockout of the GnRH gene was discovered in a hypogonadal (hpg) mouse. Hormone injections, gene replacement methods and neural grafting in these mutants all confirmed the central role of GnRH in reproduction. The modern techniques of molecular biology have allowed us to extend our knowledge base. In the last few years the role of kisspeptin and its receptor (GPR54) in the control of the GnRH neurone has added a further level of hypothalamic involvement in the modulation of reproduction.

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