The initiation of mammalian puberty requires an increase in pulsatile release of GnRH from the hypothalamus. This increase is brought about by coordinated changes in transsynaptic and glial-neuronal communication. As the neuronal and glial excitatory inputs to the GnRH neuronal network increase, the transsynaptic inhibitory tone decreases, leading to the pubertal activation of GnRH secretion. The excitatory neuronal systems most prevalently involved in this process use glutamate and the peptide kisspeptin for neurotransmission/ neuromodulation, whereas the most important inhibitory inputs are provided by γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic and opiatergic neurons. Glial cells, on the other hand, facilitate GnRH secretion via growth factor-dependent cell-cell signaling. Coordination of this regulatory neuronal-glial network may require a hierarchical arrangement. One level of coordination appears to be provided by a host of unrelated genes encoding proteins required for cell-cell communication. A second, but overlapping, level might be provided by a second tier of genes engaged in specific cell functions required for productive cell-cell interaction. A third and higher level of control involves the transcriptional regulation of these subordinate genes by a handful of upper echelon genes that, operating within the different neuronal and glial subsets required for the initiation of the pubertal process, sustain the functional integration of the network. The existence of functionally connected genes controlling the pubertal process is consistent with the concept that puberty is under genetic control and that the genetic underpinnings of both normal and deranged puberty are polygenic rather than specified by a single gene. The availability of improved high-throughput techniques and computational methods for global analysis of mRNAs and proteins will allow us to not only initiate the systematic identification of the different components of this neuroendocrine network but also to define their functional interactions.
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