Evidence that Insulin Signalling in Gonadotrophin-Releasing Hormone and Kisspeptin Neurones does not Play an Essential Role in Metabolic Regulation of Fertility in Mice

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Insulin in the brain plays an important role in regulating reproductive function, as demonstrated via conditional brain-specific insulin receptor (Insr) deletion (knockout). However, the specific neuronal target cells mediating the central effects of insulin on the reproductive axis remain unidentified. We first investigated whether insulin can act via direct effects on gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurones. After clearly detecting Insr mRNA in an immunopurified GnRH cell fraction, we confirmed the presence of insulin receptor protein (InsR) in approximately 82% of GnRH neurones using dual-label immunohistochemistry. However, we did not observe any insulin-induced phospho-Akt (pAkt) or phospho-extracellular-signal-regulated kinase 1/2 in GnRH neurones, and therefore we investigated whether insulin signals via kisspeptin neurones to modulate GnRH release. Using dual-label immunohistochemistry, InsRs were detected only in approximately 5% of kisspeptin-immunoreactive cells. Insulin-induced pAkt was not observed in any kisspeptin-immunoreactive cells in either the rostral periventricular region of the third ventricle or arcuate nucleus in response to 200 mU of insulin treatment, although a more pharmacological dose (10 U) induced pronounced (> 20%) pAkt–kisspeptin coexpression in both regions. To confirm that insulin signalling via kisspeptin neurones does not critically modulate reproductive function, we generated kisspeptin-specific InsR knockout (KIRKO) mice and assessed multiple reproductive and metabolic parameters. No significant differences in puberty onset, oestrous cyclicity or reproductive competency were observed in the female or male KIRKO mice compared to their control littermates. However, significantly decreased fasting insulin (P < 0.05) and a nonsignificant trend towards reduced body weight were observed in male KIRKO mice. Thus, InsR signalling in kisspeptin cells is not critical for puberty onset or reproductive competency, although it may have a small metabolic effect in males.

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