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It is well established that sexual differentiation of the rodent hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis is principally orchestrated by estrogen during the perinatal period. Here we sought to better characterize the mechanistic role the beta form of the estrogen receptor (ERβ) plays in this process.
To achieve this, we exposed neonatal female rats to three doses (0.5, 1 and 2 mg/kg) of the ERβ selective agonist diarylpropionitrile (DPN) using estradiol benzoate (EB) as a positive control. Measures included day of vaginal opening, estrous cycle quality, GnRH and Fos co-localization following ovariectomy and hormone priming, circulating luteinizing hormone (LH) levels and quantification of hypothalamic kisspeptin immunoreactivity. A second set of females was then neonatally exposed to DPN, the ERα agonist propyl-pyrazole-triol (PPT), DPN+PPT, or EB to compare the impact of ERα and ERβ selective agonism on kisspeptin gene expression in pre- and post-pubescent females.
All three DPN doses significantly advanced the day of vaginal opening and induced premature anestrus. GnRH and Fos co-labeling, a marker of GnRH activation, following ovariectomy and hormone priming was reduced by approximately half at all doses; the magnitude of which was not as large as with EB or what we have previously observed with the ERα agonist PPT. LH levels were also correspondingly lower, compared to control females. No impact of DPN was observed on the density of kisspeptin immunoreactive (-ir) fibers or cell bodies in the arcuate (ARC) nucleus, and kisspeptin-ir was only significantly reduced by the middle (1 mg/kg) DPN dose in the preoptic region. The second experiment revealed that EB, PPT and the combination of DPN+PPT significantly abrogated preoptic Kiss1 expression at both ages but ARC expression was only reduced by EB.
Our results indicate that selective agonism of ERβ is not sufficient to completely achieve male-typical HPG organization observed with EB or an ERα agonist.