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P Brown and AS McNeilly

The gonadotrophic hormones, LH and FSH, are synthesized in and secreted from gonadotroph cells in the anterior pituitary and comprise a common alpha-subunit and a hormone-specific beta-subunit. Gonadotrophic gene expression is activated during embryogenesis, independent of GnRH stimulation and increases as GnRH output increases, reaching adult levels at puberty. The transcriptional regulation of pituitary gonadotrophin subunit gene expression is regulated by two types of transcription factor: those that restrict and direct gene expression to gonadotrophs and those that modulate GnRH-regulated gene expression. Synergism between these two types of factor ensures gonadotroph-specific GnRH-regulated gene expression. It is not known whether these two types of transcription factor are mutually exclusive or whether they have overlapping functions. GnRH-regulated gonadotrophin subunit gene expression is modulated by transcription factors controlled by a complex interaction of GnRH, steroids and gonadal peptides, all of which bind to receptors that activate disparate intracellular signalling pathways. It remains to be established how these signalling pathways interact to transduce specific transcriptional activation of common alpha-subunit and LH and FSH beta-subunit gene expression.

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V Padmanabhan and AS McNeilly

A thorough understanding of the factors that regulate the secretion of FSH is critical for the development of efficient methods for fertility regulation. The purpose of this review is to evaluate what is currently known about the existence of FSH-releasing factor(s). It considers the obstacles encountered in understanding the control of FSH secretion, current knowledge of the nature of FSH secretion and the mechanisms involved in controlling FSH secretion, the arguments that have been posed against the need for an FSH-releasing factor and finally the evidence available to date supporting the existence of FSH-releasing factor(s).

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JL Crawford, McNeilly JR, L Nicol, and AS McNeilly

Intracellular associations indicate that granins may play a role in the regulatory mechanisms involved in differential secretion of gonadotrophins. The effect of GnRH on mRNA expression, storage and secretory patterns of granins and gonadotrophins was investigated in male mice. GnRH antiserum (G/A) was injected into mice in the treatment group (n = 15) at 12 h intervals for 2 days and a subset (n = 9) was killed. Buserelin (G/A + B) was administered to the remaining mice (n = 6), which were killed 2 h later; control mice (n = 6) were killed at the onset of the study. LHb mRNA content was lower in G/A and G/A + B mice compared with controls, whereas plasma LH concentrations were higher in G/A + B mice. FSHbeta mRNA content did not change, whereas plasma FSH concentrations were lower in G/A mice compared with controls, and higher in G/A + B mice compared with both G/A and control mice. Secretogranin II (SgII) and CgA mRNA contents were not different between experimental groups. There were more granules per gonadotroph in G/A mice, and considerably fewer after Buserelin treatment. Immunogold labelling of gonadotrophs revealed the presence of LH(+ve)/SgII(+ve) and LH(+ve)/SgII(-ve) granules, and negligible numbers of LH(-ve)/SgII(+ve) granules. Both the numbers of LH(+ve)/SgII(+ve) granules and overall granule antigenicity for SgII were higher in G/A mice compared with controls and G/A + B mice. In contrast, there were fewer LH(+ve)/SgII(-ve) granules per gonadotroph in G/A mice compared with controls. In conclusion, absence of GnRH input to the pituitary gland resulted in preferential storage of SgII and subsequently increased intragranular co-aggregation with LH. Administration of Buserelin to G/A mice resulted in the apparent release of LH(+ve)/SgII(+ve) granules that was reflected by an increase in plasma LH concentrations, indicating that these granules were in the regulated secretory pathway. In contrast, secretion of LH(+ve)/SgII(-ve) granules did not appear to be influenced by the actions of Buserelin and, therefore, may have been destined for constitutive release, possibly to maintain basal plasma LH concentrations.

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CJ Souza, BK Campbell, AS McNeilly, and DT Baird

The bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) have been implicated in the paracrine regulation of ovarian follicular development. In this study, we investigated the expression of the BMP receptors (BMPRs) in sheep ovaries by immunohistochemistry and the effect of BMP2, a natural ligand for these receptors, on granulosa cells cultured in vitro. Ovaries from cyclic ewes were fixed, embedded in paraffin wax and cut into sections. The sections were rehydrated, submitted to microwave antigen retrieval and treated with polyclonal antibodies against BMPR1A, BMPR1B and BMPR2. Strong immunostaining for all three receptors was observed in the granulosa cell layer of follicles from the primary to late antral stages of development. Staining was also present in the oocyte, corpus luteum, ovarian surface epithelium and, to a lesser extent, the theca layer of antral follicles. For functional studies, granulosa cells were obtained from immature follicles 1-3 mm in diameter. The cells were cultured for 6 days in serum-free medium containing 1 ng oFSH-20 ml(-1) in the presence of 0, 3, 10 or 30 ng ml(-1) human recombinant BMP2. The medium was replaced every 2 days and oestradiol and inhibin A concentrations were measured in the spent medium. In the absence of BMP2, oestradiol and inhibin A production increased as the granulosa cells differentiated in vitro. The addition of the highest dose of BMP2 enhanced oestradiol production (P < 0.05) without affecting the proliferation of the cells. It is concluded that BMP receptors are present in sheep ovaries and that BMPs may have a role in the differentiation of granulosa cells by enhancing the action of FSH.

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SJ Gregory, J Brooks, AS McNeilly, PM Ingleton, and DJ Tortonese

An interaction between gonadotroph and lactotroph cells of the pituitary gland has long been recognized in several species. The current study was conducted to investigate whether an association between gonadotrophs and lactotrophs occurs in mares and whether prolactin receptors are expressed within the pituitary gland of this species. The effects of both reproductive state and season on these variables were examined in pituitary glands obtained from sexually active mares in July (breeding season), sexually active mares in November (non-breeding season) and anoestrous mares in November. Pituitaries were dissected out immediately after death and immunofluorescent staining was carried out on 6 micrometer sections using specific antibodies to the LHbeta subunit, FSHbeta subunit, prolactin and prolactin receptor. Gonadotrophs were observed in both the pars distalis and pars tuberalis; although they appeared mostly as isolated cells, small groups of gonadotrophs were also identified in the pars distalis. In contrast, lactotrophs were observed only as clusters of cells exclusively in the pars distalis of sexually active and anoestrous mares in November and in most of the sexually active mares in July. A specific gonadotroph-lactotroph association was identified only between large isolated gonadotrophs and lactotroph clusters. Double immunofluorescent staining for FSHbeta and prolactin revealed a similar gonadotroph-lactotroph association to the one detected for LH gonadotrophs. No statistical difference in the gonadotroph:lactotroph ratio was observed as a result of changes in reproductive status or season. However, a tendency for a simultaneous decrease in the number of gonadotrophs and an increase in the number of lactotrophs was detected in anoestrous animals. Prolactin receptor immunoreactivity was found in the pars distalis, but not in the pars tuberalis, of sexually active (July and November) and anoestrous animals for both long and short forms of the receptor. No prolactin receptor co-localization for either form of the receptor was observed in LH or FSH gonadotrophs in either of the reproductive states examined during both summer and winter seasons. Furthermore, no significant difference was apparent in the proportion of cells expressing prolactin receptors between mares of different reproductive state or season. The specific anatomical association between gonadotroph and lactotroph cells and the expression of prolactin receptors in the equine pituitary gland indicate a potential role of prolactin in the regulation of gonadotrophin secretion. However, the absence of evidence for co-localization of prolactin receptors in LH or FSH cells does not support the hypothesis of a direct effect of prolactin on the gonadotroph as reported in a short day breeder. The results raise the possibility that, in horses, an intermediate regulatory cell may mediate the action of prolactin on gonadotroph function.

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RA Anderson, N Cambray, PS Hartley, and AS McNeilly

Inhibins and activins have roles in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation in a variety of tissues. This study investigated the distribution of the three inhibin/activin subunits (alpha, betaA and betaB) and their receptors in the human testis between week 13 and week 19 of gestation using RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry. mRNA for all three subunits and for the activin type II receptors ActRIIA and ActRIIB was detected at all stages of gestation examined. Sertoli cells showed intense immunostaining for the alpha subunit and some staining for the betaB subunit, whereas only the betaB subunit was detected in gonocytes. No betaA subunit staining was detected within the tubules. All three subunits were localized to interstitial Leydig cells. Cells of the rete testis and the epididymal epithelium also showed immunostaining for betaB; however, staining for the other subunits was weak or absent. Peritubular cells showed intense immunostaining for the beta-glycan inhibin receptor, which was also localized to interstitial cells, but was not detected within the tubular compartment, rete testis or epididymal epithelium. ActRIIA was detected in gonocytes and in interstitial cells; ActRIIB was distributed widely. These data indicate that fetal Leydig and Sertoli cells have the potential to produce both activins and inhibins, whereas gonocytes may produce only activin B. The distribution of activin and inhibin receptors implies that the intratubular compartment and developing duct system are sites of action of activin B but not inhibin at this stage of development, whereas both activins and inhibins may be involved in the development and function of the peritubular and interstitial cells.

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AS McNeilly, CJ Souza, DT Baird, IA Swanston, J McVerry, J Crawford, M Cranfield, and GA Lincoln

Previous studies have shown that changes in the plasma concentrations of immunoreactive inhibin measured by radioimmunoassay occur in parallel with growth and regression of the testes during a reproductive cycle in adult Soay rams induced by exposure to an artificial lighting regimen of alternating 16 week periods of long days and short days. With the development of new two-site ELISAs for sheep inhibin A and inhibin B, we have re-examined the relationship between FSH and dimeric, biologically active inhibin in the reproductive cycle in adult Soay rams. No signal was generated by sheep testicular extract, ram or ewe plasma, or sheep ovarian follicular fluid in the inhibin B ELISA. In contrast, ram plasma contained significant activity in the inhibin A ELISA, which diluted in parallel to the inhibin A standard, and was abolished by preincubation of ram plasma with monoclonal antibodies specific for the betaA, but not the betaB, subunit. These results indicate that the ram is the first adult male mammalian species identified to date in which the testes produce and secrete dimeric inhibin A and not inhibin B. Northern blot analysis and immunocytochemistry confirmed the presence of alpha, betaA and betaB inhibin/activin subunit mRNA and protein in the testes of adult rams. Changes in plasma inhibin A concentrations occurred in parallel with the growth and regression of the testes during the long day: short day: long day lighting regimen in adult Soay rams, confirming our previous observations with immunoreactive inhibin. During the growth phase of the testes in the first 8 weeks of exposure to short days there was a positive correlation between plasma FSH and inhibin A concentrations, indicating that during this phase the secretion of inhibin A is stimulated by FSH and that inhibin A did not act as a negative feedback hormone on FSH secretion. From week 8.5 to week 16.0 of exposure to short days, there was a negative correlation between FSH and testosterone concentrations, but not inhibin, indicating that when inhibin concentrations are high, testosterone acts as the negative regulator of FSH secretion. Thus, in intact adult rams, when the testes are fully active it appears that inhibin A may sensitize the pituitary to the negative feedback effects of testosterone, at which time they act synergistically to maintain plasma concentrations of FSH.