The distribution of progesterone receptor immunoreactivity and mRNA in the preoptic area and hypothalamus of the ewe: upregulation of progesterone receptor mRNA in the mediobasal hypothalamus by oestrogen.
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The distribution of progesterone receptors (PR) was mapped in the hypothalamus of the ewe using immunocytochemistry. These results were confirmed using in situ hybridization with a sheep-specific 35S-labelled riboprobe. In addition, the effect of oestrogen on the level of PR mRNA in the hypothalamus was examined in ovariectomized (OVX) ewes following treatment with an oestrogen implant or without treatment. PR immunoreactive (-ir) cells were readily detected in OVX animals. Labelled cells were observed in four main hypothalamic regions: the preoptic area (POA), including the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis, periventricular nucleus (PeVN), ventromedial nucleus (VMN) and the arcuate nucleus (ARC) (including the region ventral to the mamillary recess). In addition, lightly stained PR-ir cells were observed in the supraoptic nucleus and a few PR-ir cells were also found in the diagonal band of Broca. No PR-ir cells were found in the brainstem. PR mRNA-containing cells were found in the same hypothalamic regions as the PR-ir cells. Image analysis of emulsion-dipped slides following in situ hybridization indicated that oestrogen treatment increased (P<0.01) the mean number of silver grains/cell and the density of labelled cells in the VMN and ARC but had no effect on the level of PR mRNA expression in the POA or PeN. The distribution of PR-containing cells in the hypothalamus is similar to that described in other species and all cells were located in nuclei that contain large populations of oestrogen receptor-containing cells. These include regions implicated in the regulation of reproductive neuroendocrine function, and reproductive behaviour. Oestrogen and progesterone synergize to inhibit GnRH secretion and the present results suggest that these functions may involve cells of the VMN and ARC, with oestrogen acting to upregulate PR.