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Xue-Qing Wu, Xiao-Feng Li, Bilu Ye, Neha Popat, Stuart R Milligan, Stafford L Lightman and Kevin T O'Byrne

Neonatal exposure to an immunological challenge (lipopolysaccharide, LPS) increases the activity of hypothalamo-pituitary–adrenal axis and sensitises the GNRH pulse generator to the inhibitory influence of stress in adult rats. We investigated the effects of neonatal exposure to LPS on various reproductive parameters during puberty and into adulthood in female rats. LPS (50 μg/kg, i.p.) or saline was administered on postnatal days 3 and 5. Vaginal opening was recorded, and oestrous cyclicity was monitored immediately post puberty and again at 8–9 weeks of age. At 10 weeks of age, the ovaries were removed and the number of follicles was counted, together with the thickness of the theca interna of the largest antral follicles. Ovarian sympathetic nerve activity was assessed immunohistochemically by measurement of the levels of ovarian low-affinity receptor of nerve growth factor (p75NGFR). In rats exposed to LPS in early life, there was a significant delay in puberty and disruption of oestrous cyclicity immediately post puberty, which persisted into adulthood. The follicle reserve was decreased, the thickness of the theca interna increased and the expression profile of ovarian p75NGFR increased in the neonatal LPS-treated animals. These data suggest that exposure to LPS during early neonatal life can have long-term dysfunctional effects on the female reproductive system, which might involve, at least in part, increased ovarian sympathetic nerve activity.