Perinatal programming of the orexinergic (hypocretinergic) system in hypothalamus and anterior pituitary by testosterone

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HighlightsThe hypothalamic-pituitary orexinergic system has a sexual dimorphic expression.Perinatal testosterone imprints this sex-specific pattern of expression.This expression pattern is synchronized with the gonadotropic preovulatory surges.Orexins A/B derived from hypothalamic prepro-orexin (PPO) are agonists for orexin receptors 1 (OX1) and 2 (OX2). Previously, we showed clear sex differences in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal orexinergic system in adult rodents. Here, we studied the effect of sexual brain differentiation on the orexinergic system in neuroendocrine structures regulating reproduction. We evaluated: a: proestrous and neonatally androgenized female rats; b: adult males, untreated or gonadectomized in adulthood and injected with oil or estradiol and progesterone (E2/P4); c: control and demasculinized males (perinatally treated with flutamide and later castration) injected either with oil or E2/P4 in adulthood. Rats were sacrificed at 12:00 and 18:00 h; blood samples and brains were collected. Hormones were measured using radioimmunoassay. PPO, OX1 and OX2 mRNAs were quantified by qPCR in medial basal hypothalamus, anterior hypothalamus, adenohypophysis, and cortex. Western blots for OX1 were done in the same structures. In normal females, gonadotropins surged at 18:00 h coinciding with significant elevations of PPO, OX1 and OX2 mRNAs and OX1 protein in hypothalamus and pituitary; no increases were observed at noon. Afternoon changes were absent in masculinized females. Demasculinized males when treated with E2/P4 showed high PPO, OX1 and OX2 mRNAs and OX1 protein expression in hypothalamus and pituitary at 12:00 and 18:00 h compared vehicle-treated controls. The same steroid treatment was ineffective in males with normal brain masculinization. Here we show that neonatal testosterone shapes the sexual differences in the hypothalamic-pituitary orexinergic system in synchronicity to establishing the brain sex differences of the reproductive axis. The female brain controls gonadotropin surges and concurrent elevations of all studied components of the orexinergic system, suggesting its participation as a possible link between food intake, behavior and hormonal control of reproduction.

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