Recent findings have led to the concept that transforming growth factor alpha (TGFα) contributes to the neuroendocrine regulation of female puberty by stimulating the release of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH), the neurohormone controlling sexual development. It was postulated that this effect is mediated by epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) and that EGFR may not be located on LHRH neurons, so that TGFα-induced LHRH release would require an intermediate cell-to-cell interaction, presumably of glial- neuronal nature. The present study was undertaken to characterize the presence of EGFR in rat hypothalamus and to determine if changes in EGFR gene expression and EGFR protein occur at the time of puberty. RNA blot hybridization demonstrated that the hypothalamus expresses all mRNA species known to encode EGFR. RNase protection assays revealed that alternative splicing of the EGFR primary mRNA transcript occurs in the hypothalamus and produces a predominant transcript encoding the full-length EGFR and a much less abundant, shorter mRNA encoding a truncated, and presumably secreted form of EGFR. EGFR-like immunoreactive material was found in several hypothalamic regions including the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis, supraoptic, suprachiasmatic, and paraventricular nuclei, ependymal cells lining the third ventricle, some astrocytes associated with blood vessels, astrocytes of the pial surface, and tanycytes and glial cells of the median eminence (ME). Low levels of EGFR mRNA were detected by hybridization histochemistry in cells of the same areas containing EGFR-like immunoreactivity. Double-immunohistochemistry revealed that even though LHRH neurons are in close proximity to EGFR-positive cells, they do not contain EGFR. In the ME, EGFR-immunonegative LHRH nerve terminals tightly coexist with EGFR-positive cells, presumably tanycytes and glial astrocytes. EGFR mRNA levels measured by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assay (RT-PCR) in the ME-arcuate nucleus region at the time of puberty decreased in the morning of the first proestrus, i.e., preceding the first preovulatory surge of gonadotropins, and rebounded at the time of the surge. Functional EGFR protein levels, detected by the ability of the receptor to autophosphorylate in response to ligand or divalent antibody- induced activation, changed in a similar manner at the time of puberty. No such changes were observed in the cerebellum, a brain region irrelevant to neuroendocrine reproductive control. These results demonstrate the existence of EGF receptors in the prepubertal female rat hypothalamus and suggest that changes in EGFR gene expression and biologically active EGFR protein contributes to the neuroendocrine process underlying the first preovulatory surge of gonadotropins. The results also support the view that the stimulatory effect of TGFα/EGF on LHRH secretion is not exerted directly on LHRH neurons but rather through intermediate, EGFR-bearing cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology