We tested the hypotheses that progesterone enhances the negative feedback actions of testosterone in rams and that this occurs through actions at the hypothalamus. In the first part of this study, blood samples were collected every 10 min for 12 h before and after 7 days of treatment (i.m.) of castrated Romney Marsh rams (n=5 per group) with vehicle, progesterone (4 mg/12 h), testosterone (4 mg/12 h) or a combination of progesterone (4 mg/12 h) and testosterone (4 mg/12 h). In the second part of this study the brains of four gonad-intact Romney Marsh rams were collected, the hypothalamus was sectioned and in situ hybridisation of mRNA for progesterone receptors conducted. After 7 days of treatment with vehicle or progesterone or testosterone alone, there were no changes in the secretion of LH. In contrast, treatment with a combination of progesterone and testosterone resulted in a significant (P<0.01, repeated measures ANOVA) decrease in mean plasma concentrations of LH, the number of LH pulses per hour and the pre-LH pulse nadir and a significant (P<0.01) increase in the inter-LH pulse interval. We found cells containing mRNA for progesterone receptors throughout the hypothalamus, including the preoptic area (where most GnRH neurons are located in sheep), the periventricular, ventromedial and arcuate nuclei and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. This study shows that progesterone is capable of acting centrally with testosterone to suppress the secretion of LH in castrated rams and that cells containing mRNA for progesterone receptors are located in the hypothalamus of rams in the vicinity of GnRH neurons.
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AI Turner, AJ Tilbrook, IJ Clarke, and CJ Scott
BA Henry, A Rao, AJ Tilbrook, and IJ Clarke
Changes in the secretion of GH induced by long-term alterations in nutritional status are thought to result from alterations in somatostatin (SRIF) and growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) at the level of the hypothalamus. To date however, the effect of nutrition on the gene expression of SRIF and GHRH in a species where GH secretion is increased by food restriction, as is the case for the sheep and human, remains unknown. We determined the effect of under-nutrition on the expression of SRIF and GHRH in the hypothalamus of sheep. Ovariectomised ewes were randomly divided into two groups and either fed an ad lib diet (n=6) or a restricted diet of 500 g lucerne chaff per day (food-restricted; n=5) for 7 months. In situ hybridisation was used to study hypothalamic gene expression for GHRH, SRIF and galanin (GAL). The food-restricted animals had elevated plasma concentrations of GH; this was associated with an increase in GHRH mRNA levels in the arcuate nucleus (ARC) and reduced SRIF in the rostral periventricular nucleus and ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus. The level of gene expression of GAL in the ARC and SRIF in the caudal periventricular nucleus was similar in ad lib and food-restricted animals. In conclusion, the effect of chronic food-restriction on the secretion of GH reflects increased GHRH and reduced SRIF synthesis in the hypothalamus.
AJ Tilbrook, DM de Kretser, and IJ Clarke
Three experiments were conducted with castrated Romney Marsh rams (wethers) to investigate the ability of testosterone and inhibin to suppress the secretion of LH and FSH during the breeding and the non-breeding seasons. In Experiment 1, wethers (n=5/group) were treated every 12 h for 7 days with oil or 16 mg testosterone propionate (i.m.) and were then given two i.v. injections either of vehicle or of 0.64 microg/kg human recombinant inhibin A (hr-inhibin) 6 h apart. Blood samples were collected for 4 h before inhibin or vehicle treatment and for 6 h afterwards for the assay of LH and FSH. In Experiments 2 and 3 wethers underwent hypothalamo-pituitary disconnection (HPD) and were given 125 ng GnRH i.v. every 2 h. In Experiment 2, HPD wethers (n=3/group) were injected (i.m.) every 12 h with oil or testosterone and blood samples were collected over 9 h before treatment and 7 days after treatment. In Experiment 3, HPD (n=5/group) wethers were treated with vehicle or hr-inhibin, as in Experiment 1, after treatment with oil, or 4, 8 or 16 mg testosterone twice daily for 7 days. Blood samples were collected over 4 h before treatment with vehicle or hr-inhibin and for 6 h afterwards. Treatment of wethers with testosterone (Experiment 1) resulted in a significant decrease in the plasma concentrations of LH and number of LH pulses per hour but the magnitude of these reductions did not differ between seasons. Testosterone treatment had no effect on LH secretion in GnRH-pulsed HPD wethers in either season and treatment with hr-inhibin did not affect LH secretion in wethers or HPD wethers in any instance. Plasma concentrations of FSH were significantly (P<0.05) reduced following treatment with testosterone alone during the breeding season but not during the non-breeding season. FSH levels were reduced to a greater extent by treatment with hr-inhibin but this effect was not influenced by season. During the non-breeding season, the effect of hr-inhibin to suppress FSH secretion was enhanced in the presence of testosterone. These experiments demonstrate that the negative feedback actions of testosterone on the secretion of LH in this breed of rams occurs at the hypothalamic level and is not influenced by season. In contrast, both testosterone and inhibin act on the pituitary gland to suppress the secretion of FSH and these responses are affected by season. Testosterone and inhibin synergize at the pituitary to regulate FSH secretion during the non-breeding season but not during the breeding season.
AJ Tilbrook, DM de Kretser, and IJ Clarke
We have investigated the effectiveness of human recombinant inhibin A (hr-inhibin A) to suppress the secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in ram lambs from 1 to 18 months of age. Seventeen rams (nine castrated, eight intact) were used. At 1, 3, 6, 9, 12 and 18 months of age the rams were given an i.v. injection of either vehicle or hr-inhibin A (0.64 microgram/kg). Blood samples were taken over 24 h. Plasma concentrations of FSH were suppressed in castrated and intact rams following injection of hr-inhibin A with maximal suppression occurring 6 h after injection. Vehicle injection had no effect. At 12 months of age the suppression in FSH was most rapid in castrated rams and was maximal in intact rams. The clearance rate of inhibin was greatest at older ages but during the period of seasonally induced testicular activity, there was a significant decrease in the inhibin clearance. The testicular weight was reduced in rams treated with hr-inhibin A, indicating the importance of FSH for testicular development during the pubertal period. There was no effect of hr-inhibin A on plasma concentrations of luteinizing hormone. We conclude that inhibin is capable of suppressing the secretion of FSH in rams from 1 month of age onwards and that the pituitary gland becomes maximally responsive to the actions of inhibin by the age of puberty.
KL Gatford, AR Egan, IJ Clarke, and PC Owens
JC Whitley, AS Giraud, AO Mahoney, IJ Clarke, and A Shulkes
In the ovine endometrium, dramatic increases in gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) mRNA and immunoreactivity are observed during the luteal regression phase of the oestrous cycle (24-fold) and during pregnancy (at least 150-fold). This study sought to determine whether oestrogen and/or progesterone were responsible for the temporal regulation of GRP observed in the uterus. Ovariectomized sheep were divided into four groups (n=4), as follows: 1, untreated; 2, given subcutaneous and intravaginal progesterone implants; 3, given subcutaneous oestrogen implants; and 4, treated with both oestrogen and progesterone. After 10 days, the animals were sacrificed and plasma, pituitary and endometrium were obtained. A fifth group of sheep with intact ovaries was included. Analysis of endometrial GRP-immunoreactivity (GRP-ir) revealed a twofold drop for groups treated with oestrogen, progesterone or both hormones. A dramatic reduction in endometrial GRP mRNA was o! bserved in the group treated with both hormones. GRP-ir was measured in whole pituitaries and found to vary greatly (1.7-53.7 pmol/g tissue) within all groups of ovariectomized animals. There were no significant differences between any of the five groups. A significant reduction in circulating GRP-ir was observed after 10 days of treatment with either oestrogen or progesterone. These studies demonstrate that, in sheep, the synthesis, storage and secretion of GRP are differentially affected by oestrogen and progesterone. Regulation appears to be tissue specific since GRP content in the pituitary is unchanged by oestrogen or progesterone whereas GRP expression in the endometrium is inhibited. Changes in GRP mRNA expression did not correlate with changes in endometrial expression of mRNA for oestrogen receptor alpha, oestrogen receptor beta and the progesterone receptor. This study is the first reported demonstration that expression of the GRP gene can be influenced by the presence of ovarian steroids, with the conclusion that oestrogen and/or progesterone act as negative regulators of endometrial GRP expression.
BA Henry, JW Goding, AJ Tilbrook, FR Dunshea, and IJ Clarke
Leptin can act as a satiety factor and exert neuroendocrine effects, but most studies have been performed in fasted animals. We aimed to determine the effect of chronic under-nutrition on the response to a 3-day intracerebroventricular infusion of leptin with regard to food intake and the secretion of pituitary hormones. Ovariectomised ewes (n=6) had a mean (+/-s.e.m. ) bodyweight of 56+/-0.8 kg on a diet available ad libitum (ad lib) or 33.4+/-1 kg on a restricted diet. The differential bodyweight was achieved by dietary means over a period of 6 months prior to the commencement of the study. Leptin (4 microg/h) or vehicle (artificial cerebrospinal fluid (aCSF)) was infused into the third cerebral ventricle for 3 days. Blood samples were taken prior to commencement and on day 3 of infusion for the assay of plasma hormone levels. The experiment was repeated one week later in a cross-over design. Food intake and metabolic status were monitored daily. The luteinising hormone (LH) pulse amplitude was lower (P<0.05) but plasma growth hormone (GH) levels were higher (P<0.05) in the food-restricted animals. Plasma levels of glucose, lactate, insulin, urea and triglycerides were similar in the two groups but non-esterified fatty acid levels were higher (P<0.01) in the animals on an ad lib diet. Leptin reduced (P<0.05) food intake only in the animals fed an ad lib diet. Leptin increased (P<0.05) the secretion of LH in the food-restricted group only and increased (P<0.05) GH irrespective of bodyweight. In conclusion, leptin does not alter food intake in animals on a restricted diet but can increase the secretion of LH in the same animals. The treatment of leptin was not sufficient to reduce plasma GH levels in the food-restricted animals, suggesting that other factors or mechanisms must be involved in the regulation of this axis.
BJ Canny, KA O'Farrell, IJ Clarke, and AJ Tilbrook
There is a sex difference in the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis of many species, although there are sparse data on the sheep. In the present study we have compared the HPA axes of intact and gonadectomised adult male and female sheep at the level of the median eminence, pituitary and adrenal glands using a variety of in vitro approaches. The concentration of arginine vasopressin (AVP) was higher (P<0.01) in the median eminence of male than female sheep, and was also elevated by gonadectomy of either sex (P<0.01). The concentration of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) in the median eminence did not differ between the sexes, but was also elevated in both sexes following gonadectomy (P<0.01). Anterior pituitary pro-opiomelanocortin mRNA concentrations were higher (P<0.05) in intact male sheep than in intact females, with the levels in gonadectomised animals of both sexes being intermediate. In contrast to this finding, basal ACTH secretion from anterior pituitary cells was higher (P<0.05) in cultures derived from female sheep than those from males, but gonadectomy was without effect. There was no effect of sex or gonadectomy on in vitro ACTH secretion in response to AVP, CRF or the combination of AVP and CRF, and in all cases the combination of AVP and CRF generated greater (P<0.0001) ACTH secretion than AVP alone. AVP alone was more effective (P<0.01) than CRF alone as an ACTH secretagogue. The adrenal glands were larger (P<0.05) in female than male sheep, with no effect of gonadectomy. Basal cortisol production was greatest (P<0.05) in cultures of adrenal cells from intact male sheep, though ACTH- and 8BrcAMP-induced cortisol production was greater in the cultures of cells from females (P=0.05); there were no effects of gonadectomy. Cultures of adrenocortical cells from male sheep had greater (P<0.05) basal cAMP production, but ACTH-stimulated cAMP production did not differ between any of the groups of animals. These findings show a range of differences in the HPA axis of male and female sheep. Furthermore, they suggest that the heightened activity of the axis in the female occurs primarily due to differences at the level of the adrenal gland, and that greater adrenal responsiveness of female animals is due to differences in the latter stages of steroidogenesis, rather than an effect on ACTH signal transduction at its receptor.
AJ Tilbrook, BJ Canny, BJ Stewart, MD Serapiglia, and IJ Clarke
This study tested the hypothesis that central administration of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and/or arginine vasopressin (AVP) will affect the secretion of LH in rams and that testosterone is necessary for these actions to occur. Plasma LH levels were measured in castrated rams during 1 h infusion of either 100 microliter vehicle/mock cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or mock CSF containing 25 microgram CRH, 25 microgram AVP or 25 microgram of each peptide through guide cannulae into the third cerebral ventricle. These intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) infusions were given to the castrated rams following injections (i.m.) each 12 h of oil or 8 mg testosterone propionate for 7 days. Blood samples were collected every 10 min for 4 h before i.c.v. infusion, during infusion and for 4 h following the infusion. Infusion of vehicle did not affect any endocrine parameters. In contrast, the plasma concentrations of LH and the amplitude of LH pulses were increased significantly during and following infusion of CRH, and this effect was not influenced by whether the castrated rams were treated with testosterone propionate or whether the CRH was administered in combination with AVP. Infusion of AVP alone did not affect LH secretion. The frequency of LH pulses and the plasma concentrations of FSH did not change with any of the i.c.v. treatments. The plasma concentrations of cortisol were significantly increased by CRH and AVP infusions. The plasma concentrations of cortisol achieved during and following i.c.v. infusion of CRH and AVP combined were greater than the concentrations achieved as a result of treatment with AVP alone but were similar to those with CRH. There was no effect of testosterone propionate on cortisol levels. These results show that CRH, but not AVP, is capable of acting either centrally or at the pituitary level to increase the secretion of LH in rams and these actions are not affected by testosterone. The stimulatory effects of CRH on LH secretion are to increase the amplitude of GnRH pulses and/or the responsiveness of the pituitary to the actions of GnRH with no effect on the frequency of GnRH pulses. The secretion of FSH in rams is not influenced by either CRH or AVP. The effect of CRH to increase LH pulse amplitude occurs in the face of increased cortisol levels, further reinforcing our belief that this adrenal steroid does not affect the reproductive axis in this species.
AJ Tilbrook, BJ Canny, MD Serapiglia, TJ Ambrose, and IJ Clarke
In this study we used an isolation/restraint stress to test the hypothesis that stress will affect the secretion of LH differently in gonadectomised rams and ewes treated with different combinations of sex steroids. Romney Marsh sheep were gonadectomised two weeks prior to these experiments. In the first experiment male and female sheep were treated with vehicle or different sex steroids for 7 days prior to the application of the isolation/restraint stress. Male sheep received either i.m. oil (control rams) or 6 mg testosterone propionate injections every 12 h. Female sheep were given empty s.c. implants (control ewes), or 2x1 cm s.c. implants containing oestradiol, or an intravaginal controlled internal drug release device containing 0.3 g progesterone, or the combination of oestradiol and progesterone. There were four animals in each group. On the day of application of the isolation/restraint stress, blood samples were collected every 10 min for 16 h for the subsequent measurement of plasma LH and cortisol concentrations. After 8 h the stress was applied for 4 h. Two weeks later, blood samples were collected for a further 16 h from the control rams and ewes, but on this day no stress was imposed. In the second experiment, separate control gonadectomised rams and ewes (n=4/group) were studied for 7 h on 3 consecutive days, when separate treatments were applied. On day 1, the animals received no treatment; on day 2, isolation/restraint stress was applied after 3 h; and on day 3, an i. v. injection of 2 microg/kg ACTH1-24 was given after 3 h. On each day, blood samples were collected every 10 min and the LH response to the i.v. injection of 500 ng GnRH administered after 5 h of sampling was measured. In Experiment 1, the secretion of LH was suppressed during isolation/restraint in all groups but the parameters of LH secretion (LH pulse frequency and amplitude) that were affected varied between groups. In control rams, LH pulse amplitude, and not frequency, was decreased during isolation/restraint whereas in rams treated with testosterone propionate the stressor reduced pulse frequency and not amplitude. In control ewes, isolation/restraint decreased LH pulse frequency but not amplitude. Isolation/restraint reduced both LH pulse frequency and amplitude in ewes treated with oestradiol, LH pulse frequency in ewes treated with progesterone and only LH pulse amplitude in ewes treated with both oestradiol and progesterone. There was no change in LH secretion during the day of no stress. Plasma concentrations of cortisol were higher during isolation/restraint than on the day of no stress. On the day of isolation/restraint maximal concentrations of cortisol were observed during the application of the stressor but there were no differences between groups in the magnitude of this response. In Experiment 2, isolation/restraint reduced the LH response to GnRH in rams but not ewes and ACTH reduced the LH response to GnRH both in rams and ewes. Our results show that the mechanism(s) by which isolation/restraint stress suppresses LH secretion in sheep is influenced by sex steroids. The predominance of particular sex steroids in the circulation may affect the extent to which stress inhibits the secretion of GnRH from the hypothalamus and/or the responsiveness of the pituitary gland to the actions of GnRH. There are also differences between the sexes in the effects of stress on LH secretion that are independent of the sex steroids.