The Origin of GnRH Pulse Generation: An Integrative Mathematical-Experimental Approach

J Neurosci. 2019 Dec 4;39(49):9738-9747. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0828-19.2019. Epub 2019 Oct 23.


Fertility critically depends on the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) pulse generator, a neural construct comprised of hypothalamic neurons coexpressing kisspeptin, neurokoinin-B and dynorphin. Here, using mathematical modeling and in vivo optogenetics we reveal for the first time how this neural construct initiates and sustains the appropriate ultradian frequency essential for reproduction. Prompted by mathematical modeling, we show experimentally using female estrous mice that robust pulsatile release of luteinizing hormone, a proxy for GnRH, emerges abruptly as we increase the basal activity of the neuronal network using continuous low-frequency optogenetic stimulation. Further increase in basal activity markedly increases pulse frequency and eventually leads to pulse termination. Additional model predictions that pulsatile dynamics emerge from nonlinear positive and negative feedback interactions mediated through neurokinin-B and dynorphin signaling respectively are confirmed neuropharmacologically. Our results shed light on the long-elusive GnRH pulse generator offering new horizons for reproductive health and wellbeing.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) pulse generator controls the pulsatile secretion of the gonadotropic hormones LH and FSH and is critical for fertility. The hypothalamic arcuate kisspeptin neurons are thought to represent the GnRH pulse generator, since their oscillatory activity is coincident with LH pulses in the blood; a proxy for GnRH pulses. However, the mechanisms underlying GnRH pulse generation remain elusive. We developed a mathematical model of the kisspeptin neuronal network and confirmed its predictions experimentally, showing how LH secretion is frequency-modulated as we increase the basal activity of the arcuate kisspeptin neurons in vivo using continuous optogenetic stimulation. Our model provides a quantitative framework for understanding the reproductive neuroendocrine system and opens new horizons for fertility regulation.

Keywords: arcuate nucleus; fertility; gonadotrophin-releasing hormone; kisspeptin neurons; mathematical model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dynorphins / physiology
  • Estrous Cycle / physiology
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology*
  • Kisspeptins / physiology
  • Luteinizing Hormone / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neurokinin B / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Optogenetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Ultradian Rhythm / physiology


  • Kisspeptins
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Dynorphins
  • Neurokinin B
  • Luteinizing Hormone