To ensure the survival of the species, hypothalamic neuroendocrine circuits controlling fertility, which converge onto neurons producing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), must respond to fluctuating physiological conditions by undergoing rapid and reversible structural and functional changes. However, GnRH neurons do not act alone, but through reciprocal interactions with multiple hypothalamic cell populations, including several glial and endothelial cell types. For instance, it has long been known that in the hypothalamic median eminence, where GnRH axons terminate and release their neurohormone into the pituitary portal blood circulation, morphological plasticity displayed by distal processes of tanycytes modifies their relationship with adjacent neurons as well as the spatial properties of the neurohemal junction. These alterations not only regulate the capacity of GnRH neurons to release their neurohormone, but also the activation of discrete non-neuronal pathways that mediate feedback by peripheral hormones onto the hypothalamus. Additionally, a recent breakthrough has demonstrated that GnRH neurons themselves orchestrate the establishment of their neuroendocrine circuitry during postnatal development by recruiting an entourage of newborn astrocytes that escort them into adulthood and, via signalling through gliotransmitters such as prostaglandin E2, modulate their activity and GnRH release. Intriguingly, several environmental and behavioural toxins perturb these neuron-glia interactions and consequently, reproductive maturation and fertility. Deciphering the communication between GnRH neurons and other neural cell types constituting hypothalamic neuroendocrine circuits is thus critical both to understanding physiological processes such as puberty, oestrous cyclicity and aging, and to developing novel therapeutic strategies for dysfunctions of these processes, including the effects of endocrine disruptors.
Keywords: GnRH; astrocyte; glia; gliotransmission; neuronal activity; neurosecretion; tanycyte.
© 2022 British Society for Neuroendocrinology.