Neuroendocrine integration of nutritional signals on reproduction

    1. Greg M Anderson
    1. Centre for Neuroendocrinology and Department of Anatomy, University of Otago School of Medical Sciences, Dunedin, New Zealand
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to M C Evans; Email: maggie.evans{at}


    Reproductive function in mammals is energetically costly and therefore tightly regulated by nutritional status. To enable this integration of metabolic and reproductive function, information regarding peripheral nutritional status must be relayed centrally to the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GNRH) neurons that drive reproductive function. The metabolically relevant hormones leptin, insulin and ghrelin have been identified as key mediators of this ‘metabolic control of fertility’. However, the neural circuitry through which they act to exert their control over GNRH drive remains incompletely understood. With the advent of Cre-LoxP technology, it has become possible to perform targeted gene-deletion and gene-rescue experiments and thus test the functional requirement and sufficiency, respectively, of discrete hormone–neuron signaling pathways in the metabolic control of reproductive function. This review discusses the findings from these investigations, and attempts to put them in context with what is known from clinical situations and wild-type animal models. What emerges from this discussion is clear evidence that the integration of nutritional signals on reproduction is complex and highly redundant, and therefore, surprisingly difficult to perturb. Consequently, the deletion of individual hormone–neuron signaling pathways often fails to cause reproductive phenotypes, despite strong evidence that the targeted pathway plays a role under normal physiological conditions. Although transgenic studies rarely reveal a critical role for discrete signaling pathways, they nevertheless prove to be a good strategy for identifying whether a targeted pathway is absolutely required, critically involved, sufficient or dispensable in the metabolic control of fertility.

    • Received 23 December 2016
    • Accepted 5 January 2017
    • Made available online as an Accepted Preprint 5 January 2017
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