Endogenous opioid peptides and hypothalamic neuroendocrine neurones

J Endocrinol. 1985 Dec;107(3):437-46. doi: 10.1677/joe.0.1070437.


This consideration of the influence of endogenous opioid peptide systems on GnRH and oxytocin neurones serves to illustrate some of their possible regulatory interactions with other neuroendocrine systems. Opioids are known to influence the secretion of all the anterior pituitary hormones (see Grossman & Rees, 1983) and these effects are likely to be mediated, at least in part, in the hypothalamus. For example, inhibitory effects of opioids have also been described on secretion from the median eminence of somatostatin (Drouva et al. 1981b) and dopamine (Wilkes & Yen, 1980), and this site of action probably accounts for at least some of the stimulatory effects of exogenous opioids on plasma growth hormone and prolactin levels respectively. For the GnRH neurones the influence of endogenous opioid neurones, possibly the arcuate beta-endorphin system, appears to be mediated indirectly by inhibiting release of excitatory or facilitatory monoamines. This opioid-adrenergic interaction itself appears to be central in the regulation of gonadotrophin secretion and mediation of the feedback effects of gonadal steroids in the brain. The steroids may act directly on both adrenergic and opioid neurones, altering monoamine metabolism and release which may, in turn, regulate numbers of adrenergic receptors perhaps located on the GnRH neurones. Opioid peptide levels are also modulated by steroids probably reflecting altered synthesis and/or processing of precursors. Regulation of the opioid-adrenergic input may not only acutely affect the secretory output of the GnRH neurones but also influence synthesis or processing of GnRH itself (see Kalra & Kalra, 1984) and its degradation by hypothalamic peptidases (Advis, Krause & McKelvy, 1983). Oxytocin neurones demonstrate three further levels of interaction with endogenous opioid peptides. First the anatomical organization of the oxytocin neurones has enabled a clear demonstration of the action of opioids close to the secretory terminals to uncouple the generation of electrical activity from release of peptide. Secondly, both the oxytocin and the neighbouring vasopressin neurones themselves synthesize, process and package opioid peptides. These neurones thus provide a clear example of co-existence of several biologically active products in individual neurones. The relative expression of the different gene products may prove to be a further level of control of opioid influences on the oxytocin and vasopressin neurones.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology
  • Endorphins / physiology*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Oxytocin / physiology
  • Pituitary Hormone-Releasing Hormones / physiology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Opioid / physiology


  • Endorphins
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Pituitary Hormone-Releasing Hormones
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Oxytocin