Galanin is colocalized with GnRH in neurons of the hypothalamus and basal forebrain of female rats, and this neuropeptide may play a role in the generation of the midcycle surge of gonadotropin secretion. We tested the hypothesis that galanin gene expression in GnRH cells increases during proestrus. To accomplish this, we killed groups of adult female rats at 1200 and 1800 h on the day of proestrus as well as at 1800 h on the day of estrus and used double labeling in situ hybridization and image analysis to estimate and compare the levels of galanin mRNA in cells coexpressing GnRH mRNA. GnRH mRNA was detected with an antisense cRNA probe labeled with the hapten digox-igenin, while the galanin cRNA probe was labeled with35S and detected by autoradiography. There was no significant difference in the total number of GnRH cells identified in each animal in any of the different groups in any experiment. The relative number of silver grains over these cells, reflecting galanin mRNA content in GnRH neurons (identified by their purple color), was counted with a computerized image analysis system. In an initial experiment, we observed a 2-fold (P < 0.03) higher galanin mRNA signal level in the animals killed at 1800 h than in those killed at 1200 h on the day of proestrus. Animals killed at 1800 h on the day of estrus had galanin mRNA signal levels that were not statistically different from those in the proestrous 1800 h group, indicating that the increase in galanin mRNA at proestrus is maintained for at least 24 h. Galanin mRNA levels in GnRH neurons returned to basal levels equivalent to those in the proestrous 1200 h group by 1000 h on diestrous day 1. In conjunction with the studies of galanin gene expression in GnRH neurons, we compared the relative cellular contents of GnRH mRNA among the same groups. Here, we used single labeling isotopic in situ hybridization for GnRH mRNA and computerized image analysis to count the resulting silver grains. We could detect no difference in GnRH mRNA signal levels (proestrus, 1200 h vs. proestrus, 1800 h vs. estrus, 1800 h). In a final experiment, we investigated the possible role of estrogen in the induction of galanin mRNA expression at proestrus by comparing relative galanin mRNA contents in GnRH neurons among groups of ovariectomized, intact (diestrous day 1), and ovariectomized 17β-estradiol-replaced female rats. We observed a significant (P < 0.006) decrease in galanin mRNA levels in ovariectomized animals relative to diestrous day 1 animals, which was blocked by estradiol replacement. We conclude that galanin mRNA levels in GnRH neurons of the female rat are increased during proestrus and that the rise in plasma estrogen occurring early in proestrus may stimulate expression of galanin mRNA. These observations suggest that an increase in galanin gene expression subserves increases in the synthesis and secretion of galanin by GnRH neurons, which could enhance the ability of cosecreted GnRH to stimulate gonadotropin release at the time of the preovulatory surge.
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