Immunological challenge experienced in early life can have long-term programming effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that permanently influence the stress response. Similarly, neonatal exposure to immunological stress enhances stress-induced suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary gonadal (HPG) axis in adulthood, but may also affect earlier development, including the timing of puberty. To investigate the timing of the critical window for this programming of the HPG axis, neonatal female rats were injected with lipopolysaccharide (LPS; 50 microg/kg i.p.) or saline on postnatal days 3 + 5, 7 + 9, or 14 + 16 and monitored for vaginal opening and first vaginal oestrus as markers of puberty. We also investigated the effects of neonatal programming on the development of the expression patterns of kisspeptin (Kiss1) and its receptor (Kiss1r) in hypothalamic sites known to contain kisspeptin-expressing neuronal populations critical to reproductive function: the medial preoptic area (mPOA) and the arcuate nucleus in neonatally-stressed animals. We determined that the critical period for a significant delay in puberty as a result of neonatal LPS exposure is before 7 days of age in the female rat, and demonstrated that Kiss1, but not Kiss1r mRNA, expression in the mPOA is down-regulated in pre-pubertal females. These data suggest that the mPOA population of kisspeptin neurones play a pivotal role in controlling the onset of puberty, and that their function can be affected by neonatal stress.