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Neuroendocrine mechanisms mediating awakening of the human gonadotropic axis in puberty


The hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) pulse generator presides over the pulsatile and feedback-regulated activities of the pituitary-gonadal axis. Awakening of synchronous activity of the GnRH neuronal ensemble in the earliest stages of puberty heralds the onset of full activation of the reproductive axis in girls and boys. Progression from prepuberty to adulthood in boys is directed by marked (30-fold) amplitude enhancement of pulsatile luteinizing hormone (LH) secretion, as assessed by an ultrasensitive immunofluorometric assay and deconvolution analysis. There is a much less apparent rise in LH secretory burst frequency (approximately 1.3-fold increase). Consequently, human puberty is an amplitudedriven neuroendocrine maturational process. However, less is known about pulsatile follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) release in puberty. Multiple pathophysiologies that result in hypogonadotropic hypogonadism can converge on a final common mechanism of attenuated hypothalamic GnRH pulse generator output and hence reduced LH (and FSH) secretion. Disturbances may take the form of reduced GnRH pulse frequency and/or attenuated GnRH secretory burst mass. When the pathophysiology of hypogonadism originates exclusively in a failed GnRH pulse generator, then either treatment of the primary disease process where possible (e.g., by refeeding in starvation, improved metabolic control in diabetes mellitus, dopamine agonist treatment in hyperprolactinemia, etc.) and/or treatment with pulsatile GnRH (e.g., in Kallmann's syndrome, isolated hypothalamic lesions, etc.) can provide relevant therapeutic options in children and adults.

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Veldhuis, J.D. Neuroendocrine mechanisms mediating awakening of the human gonadotropic axis in puberty. Pediatr Nephrol 10, 304–317 (1996).

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Key words

  • Puberty
  • Gonadotropin
  • Pituitary
  • Reproduction
  • Growth