Effects of peripubertal gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist on brain development in sheep--a magnetic resonance imaging study

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Oct;38(10):1994-2002. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.03.009. Epub 2013 Apr 8.


In many species sexual dimorphisms in brain structures and functions have been documented. In ovine model, we have previously demonstrated that peri-pubertal pharmacological blockade of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) action increased sex-differences of executive emotional behavior. The structural substrate of this behavioral alteration however is unknown. In this magnetic resonance image (MRI) study on the same animals, we investigated the effects of GnRH agonist (GnRHa) treatment on the volume of total brain, hippocampus and amygdala. In total 41 brains (17 treated; 10 females and 7 males, and 24 controls; 11 females and 13 males) were included in the MRI study. Image acquisition was performed with 3-T MRI scanner. Segmentation of the amygdala and the hippocampus was done by manual tracing and total gray and white matter volumes were estimated by means of automated brain volume segmentation of the individual T2-weighted MRI volumes. Statistical comparisons were performed with general linear models. Highly significant GnRHa treatment effects were found on the volume of left and right amygdala, indicating larger amygdalae in treated animals. Significant sex differences were found for total gray matter and right amygdala, indicating larger volumes in male compared to female animals. Additionally, we observed a significant interaction between sex and treatment on left amygdala volume, indicating stronger effects of treatment in female compared to male animals. The effects of GnRHa treatment on amygdala volumes indicate that increasing GnRH concentration during puberty may have an important impact on normal brain development in mammals. These novel findings substantiate the need for further studies investigating potential neurobiological side effects of GnRHa treatment on the brains of young animals and humans.

Keywords: Amygdala; GnRH agonist; Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH); MRI; Puberty; Sex-differences; Sheep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Female
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / agonists*
  • Goserelin / pharmacology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Maturation / drug effects*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology
  • Sheep, Domestic
  • Time Factors


  • Goserelin
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone