Sex Differences in Steroid Receptor Coexpression and Circadian-Timed Activation of Kisspeptin and RFRP-3 Neurons May Contribute to the Sexually Dimorphic Basis of the LH Surge

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In rodents, the ovulation-inducing luteinizing hormone (LH) surge is sexually dimorphic, occurring only in females, but the reasons for this sex difference are unclear. Two neuropeptides, kisspeptin and RFamide-related peptide 3 (RFRP-3), are hypothesized to regulate the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)/LH surge. In females, both of these systems show circadian changes coincident with the LH surge, but whether males show similar temporal changes under comparable hormonal conditions is unknown. Here, we evaluated circadian time (CT)-dependent changes in gene expression and neuronal activation of Kiss1 and Rfrp neurons of female and male mice given identical LH surge-inducing estrogen regimens. As expected, females, but not males, displayed a late afternoon LH surge and GnRH neuronal activation. Kiss1 expression in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV) was temporally increased in females in the late afternoon, whereas males demonstrated no temporal changes in AVPV Kiss1 expression. Likewise, neuronal activation of AVPV Kiss1 neurons was dramatically elevated in the late afternoon in females but was low at all circadian times in males. Estrogen receptor α levels in AVPV Kiss1 neurons were sexually dimorphic, being higher in females than males. AVPV progesterone receptor levels were also higher in females than males. Hypothalamic Rfrp messenger RNA levels showed no CT-dependent changes in either sex. However, Rfrp neuronal activation was temporally diminished in the afternoon/evening in females but not males. Collectively, the identified sex differences in absolute and CT-dependent AVPV Kiss1 levels, AVPV sex steroid receptor levels, and circadian-timed changes in neuronal activation of both Kiss1 and Rfrp neurons suggest that multiple sexually dimorphic processes in the brain may underlie proper LH surge generation.

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