The orexins are produced in neurons of the lateral hypothalamic area and implicated in the regulation of both feeding and reproductive function. Orexins stimulate LH secretion in steroid-primed ovariectomized female rats and suppress LH secretion in nonprimed ovariectomized rats. The aim of the present study was to characterize the neuroanatomical pathway by which orexin might modulate LH secretion in the rat. Using double- and triple-label immunofluorescence coupled with confocal microscopy, we found that 75-85% of GnRH neurons were contacted by orexin fibers, and triple labeling with synaptophysin provided additional confirmation of close contacts. Furthermore, about 85% of GnRH neurons were colocalized with the orexin receptor 1 (OX-R1), and the OX-R1-expressing GnRH neurons were contacted by orexin terminals, providing the basis for a functional neuroanatomical pathway. GnRH nerve terminals in the median eminence, however, do not express OX-R1. An additional study investigated the coexpression of neuropeptide Y Y4-like receptors and orexin fibers in relation to GnRH neurons. There is evidence that Y4 receptor stimulation results in LH release, and studies from our laboratory show Y4-like immunoreactivity in the majority of orexin cell bodies in the lateral hypothalamic area and some orexin fibers scattered throughout the hypothalamus. The present study found that, although Y4-positive orexin fibers are in present in the area of GnRH neurons, they never come in close contact with GnRH neurons. Together, these data suggest that Y4 receptor modulation of LH release is likely to be indirect through orexin cell bodies and that orexin modulates GnRH neurons directly via OX-R1.
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