Psychosocial stress, combined with mild dieting and moderate exercise, are observed in women seeking treatment for hypothalamic amenorrhea. Using female cynomolgus macaques, we previously reported that the same combination of mild stresses suppressed reproductive hormone secretion and menstrual cycles in some individuals (stress-sensitive, SS), but not in others (highly stress-resilient, HSR). Compared to HSR monkeys, SS monkeys exhibited lower oestradiol and progesterone levels at the midcycle peak and decreased gene expression in the central serotonergic system during nonstressed cycles. Because steroids and serotonin impinge upon the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, we hypothesised that the differences between SS and HSR monkeys in the sensitivity of the HPG axis to stress may ultimately manifest in differences in the gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) system. GnRH in situ hybridisation and immunohistochemistry were performed with hypothalamic sections from SS and HSR animals, euthanised in the early follicular phase of a nonstressed menstrual cycle. Compared to HSR monkeys, SS monkeys exhibited a significantly higher number and density of GnRH cell bodies, as well as a higher number of soma with extremely robust expression of GnRH mRNA, but SS monkeys exhibited a lower density of immunostained GnRH fibres in the median eminence. We suggest that neuronal mechanisms involved in the control of GnRH synthesis, transport and release differ in SS compared to HSR animals.
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