Nutritional control of puberty in the bovine female: prenatal and early postnatal regulation of the neuroendocrine system.
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Puberty is a complex biological event that requires maturation of the reproductive neuroendocrine axis and subsequent initiation of high-frequency, episodic release of GnRH and LH. Nutrition is a critical factor affecting the neuroendocrine control of puberty. Although nutrient restriction during juvenile development delays puberty, elevated rates of body weight gain during this period facilitate pubertal maturation by programming hypothalamic centers that underlie the pubertal process. Recent findings suggest that maternal nutrition during gestation can also modulate the development of the fetal neuroendocrine axis, thus influencing puberty and subsequent reproductive function. Among the several metabolic signals, leptin plays a critical role in conveying metabolic information to the brain and, consequently, controlling puberty. The effects of leptin on GnRH secretion are mediated via an upstream neuronal network because GnRH neurons do not express the leptin receptor. Two neuronal populations located in the arcuate nucleus that express the orexigenic peptide neuropeptide Y (NPY), and the anorexigenic peptide alpha melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH), are key components of the neurocircuitry that conveys inhibitory (NPY) and excitatory (MSH) inputs to GnRH neurons. In addition, neurons in the arcuate nucleus that coexpress kisspeptin, neurokinin B, and dynorphin (termed KNDy neurons) are also involved in the metabolic control of puberty. Our studies in the bovine female demonstrate that increased planes of nutrition during juvenile development lead to organizational and functional changes in hypothalamic pathways comprising NPY, proopiomelanocortin (POMC, the precursor of MSH), and kisspeptin neurons. Changes include alterations in the abundance of NPY, POMC, and Kiss1 mRNA and in plasticity of the neuronal projections to GnRH neurons. Our studies also indicate that epigenetic mechanisms, such as modifications in the DNA methylation pattern, are involved in this process. Finally, our most recent data demonstrate that maternal nutrition during gestation can also induce morphological and functional changes in the hypothalamic NPY system in the heifer offspring that are likely to persist long after birth. These organizational changes occurring during fetal development have the potential to not only impact puberty but also influence reproductive performance throughout adulthood in the bovine female.