Gonadal steroids exert a powerful regulatory influence upon the functioning of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons despite the apparent absence of gonadal steroid receptors in these cells. By using retrograde-tracing techniques combined with dual-labeling immunocytochemistry, we show here that distinct populations of estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha)-containing neurons located in the hypothalamus and caudal brainstem project to the vicinity of the GnRH perikarya located in the rostral preoptic area (rPOA). The strongest estrogen-receptive afferent projection to this area originated from neurons located in the anteroventral periventricular and medial preoptic nuclei of the preoptic area. Approximately 50% of arcuate nucleus neurons projecting to the rPOA were demonstrated to synthesize either neuropeptide Y or beta-endorphin, but little evidence was found for ERalpha immunoreactivity in either of these specific subpopulations. Over 80% of all tyrosine hydroxylase-expressing neurons in the arcuate nucleus expressed ERalpha, but none projected to the rPOA. In the caudal brainstem, the A1 and A2 norepinephrine neurons comprised nearly all of the retrogradely labeled neurons. However, only the A2 afferents expressed ERalpha immunoreactivity, whereas the A1 afferents coexpressed neuropeptide Y. These observations, combined with the anterograde labeling data of others, provide neuroanatomical evidence for the existence of specific estrogen-receptive neuronal cell populations that project to the rPOA and may be involved in the estrogen-dependent transsynaptic regulation of GnRH neurons in the rat.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.