Reproductive function in mammals, defined as the capacity to generate viable male and female gametes, and to support pregnancy and lactation selectively in the female, is sensitive to the metabolic state of the organism. This contention, long assumed on the basis of intuitive knowledge, became formulated on a scientific basis only recently, with the identification of a number of neuroendocrine signals which crucially participate in the joint control of energy balance and reproduction. A paradigmatic example in this context is the adipocyte-derived hormone, leptin; a satiety factor which signals the amount of body energy (fat) stores not only to the circuits controlling food intake but also to a number of neuroendocrine axes, including the reproductive system. More recently, the reproductive dimension of another metabolic hormone, namely the orexigenic stomach-secreted peptide, ghrelin, has been disclosed by observations on its putative roles in the control of gonadal function and gonadotropin secretion. Of note, leptin and ghrelin have been proposed to act as reciprocal regulators of energy homeostasis. However, their potential interplay in the control of reproduction remains largely unexplored. Based on the comparison of the biological actions of leptin and ghrelin at different levels of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, reviewed in detail herein, we propose that, through concurrent or antagonistic actions, the leptin-ghrelin pair is likely to operate also as modulator of different reproductive functions, thereby contributing to the physiological integration of reproduction and energy balance.
(c) 2007 S. Karger AG, Basel.