Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology

Molecular aspects of the ontogeny of the pituitary-gonadal axis

I Huhtaniemi

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 7(5) 1025 - 1035
Published: 1995


The endocrine function of the mammalian pituitary-gonadal axis begins in utero. This is important particularly for the ontogeny and function of the male reproductive organs, the induction of which is critically dependent on the two fetal testicular hormones, testosterone and anti-mullerian hormone. In contrast, ovarian endocrine activity begins only after birth. The earliest phases of testicular hormone production are probably under autocrine or paracrine regulation, but the dependence on gonadotrophins starts in fetal life. During maturation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis, the target organs acquire their responsiveness (viz receptors) before the onset of secretion of the tropic hormonal stimulus. The last link to develop is the feedback regulation, and the whole axis is functional in the developing male rat during the last days of gestation. Although gonadotrophin secretion starts in both sexes simultaneously, the fetal ovary is endocrinologically quiescent--its gonadotrophin responsiveness and endocrine activity begin only after birth. The fetal and postnatal periods of testicular activity have crucial effects on male sexual differentiation, whereas in the female, early sexual development occurs autonomously without influence of ovarian function. The purpose of this review is to elucidate some of the recent findings on the molecular mechanisms involved in the perinatal maturation of the rat hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis.

© CSIRO 1995

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