Haploinsufficiency of SIX3 Abolishes Male Reproductive Behavior Through Disrupted Olfactory Development, and Impairs Female Fertility Through Disrupted GnRH Neuron Migration

Mol Neurobiol. 2018 Nov;55(11):8709-8727. doi: 10.1007/s12035-018-1013-0. Epub 2018 Mar 27.


Mating behavior in males and females is dependent on olfactory cues processed through both the main olfactory epithelium (MOE) and the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Signaling through the MOE is critical for the initiation of male mating behavior, and the loss of MOE signaling severely compromises this comportment. Here, we demonstrate that dosage of the homeodomain gene Six3 affects the degree of development of MOE but not the VNO. Anomalous MOE development in Six3 heterozygote mice leads to hyposmia, specifically disrupting male mounting behavior by impairing detection of volatile female estrus pheromones. Six3 is highly expressed in the MOE, main olfactory bulb (MOB), and hypothalamus; all regions essential in the proper migration of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons, a key reproductive neuronal population that migrates along olfactory axons from the developing nose into the brain. Interestingly, we find that the reduction in Six3 expression in Six3 heterozygote mice compromises development of the MOE and MOB, resulting in mis-migration of GnRH neurons due to improper olfactory axon targeting. This reduction in the hypothalamic GnRH neuron population, by 45% in adulthood, leads to female subfertility, but does not impact male hormone levels, suggesting that male infertility is not related to GnRH neuron numbers, but exclusively linked to abnormal olfaction. We here determine that Six3 is haploinsufficient for MOE development, GnRH neuron migration, and fertility, and represents a novel candidate gene for Kallmann syndrome, a form of inherited infertility.

Keywords: Anosmia; GnRH neuron migration; Kallmann syndrome; Olfactory development; Reproductive behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Movement*
  • Estrous Cycle
  • Eye Proteins / genetics*
  • Eye Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Haploinsufficiency / genetics*
  • Heterozygote
  • Homeobox Protein SIX3
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfaction Disorders / genetics
  • Olfaction Disorders / pathology
  • Olfactory Bulb / growth & development*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Volatilization


  • Eye Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone