Development, sex steroid regulation, and phenotypic characterization of RFamide-related peptide (Rfrp) gene expression and RFamide receptors in the mouse hypothalamus

Endocrinology. 2012 Apr;153(4):1827-40. doi: 10.1210/en.2011-2049. Epub 2012 Feb 21.


Arginine-phenylalanine-amide (RFamide)-related peptide 3 (RFRP-3, encoded by the Rfrp gene) is the mammalian ortholog of gonadotropin-inhibiting hormone and can inhibit GnRH neuronal activity and LH release. However, the development and regulation of the RFRP-3 system in both sexes is poorly understood. Using in situ hybridization, we examined changes in Rfrp-expressing neurons in mice of both sexes during development and under different adulthood hormonal milieus. We found no sex differences in Rfrp expression or cell number in adult mice. Interestingly, we identified two interspersed subpopulations of Rfrp cells (high Rfrp-expressing, HE; low Rfrp-expressing, LE), which have unique developmental and steroidal regulation characteristics. The number of LE cells robustly decreases during postnatal development, whereas HE cell number increases significantly before puberty. Using Bax knockout mice, we determined that the dramatic developmental decrease in LE Rfrp cells is not due primarily to BAX-dependent apoptosis. In adults, we found that estradiol and testosterone moderately repress Rfrp expression in both HE and LE cells, whereas the nonaromatizable androgen dihydrotestosterone has no effect. Using double-label in situ hybridization, we determined that approximately 25% of Rfrp neurons coexpress estrogen receptor-α in each sex, whereas Rfrp cells do not readily express androgen receptor in either sex, regardless of hormonal milieu. Lastly, when we looked at RFRP-3 receptors, we detected some coexpression of Gpr147 but no coexpression of Gpr74 in GnRH neurons of both intact and gonadectomized males and females. Thus, RFRP-3 may exert its effects on reproduction either directly, via Gpr147 in a subset of GnRH neurons, and/or indirectly, via upstream regulators of GnRH.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamus / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Models, Animal
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Phenotype*
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / deficiency
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / genetics


  • Androgens
  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Neuropeptides
  • RFamide peptide
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • neuropeptide FF receptor
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone