The binding of hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to the pituitary GnRH receptor (GnRHR) is essential for reproductive function by stimulating the synthesis and secretion of gonadotropic hormones, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Engagement of the GnRHR by GnRH initiates a complex series of signaling events that include the activation of various mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways, including extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). GnRHR signaling is thought to initiate within specialized microdomains in the plasma membrane termed membrane rafts. These microdomains are enriched in sphingolipid and cholesterol and are believed to be highly dynamic organizing centers for receptors and their cognate signaling molecules associated with the plasma membrane. Within this review we discuss the composition and role of membrane rafts in cell signaling and examine evidence that the mammalian type I GnRHR is constitutively and exclusively localized to these membrane microdomains in various experimental models. We conclude that membrane raft composition and organization potentially underlie the functional ability of GnRH to elicit the assembly of multi-protein signaling complexes necessary for downstream signaling to the ERK pathway that ultimately is critical for controlling fertility.
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