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Overexpression of corticotropin releasing factor in the central nucleus of the amygdala advances puberty and disrupts reproductive cycles in female rats

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

X F Li, M H Hu, S Y Li, C Geach, A Hikima, S Rose, M P Greenwood, M Greenwood, D Murphy, L Poston, S L Lightman, K T O'Byrne

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3934-44
Number of pages11
Issue number10
Early online date22 Jul 2014
Accepted/In press12 Jul 2014
E-pub ahead of print22 Jul 2014
PublishedOct 2014


King's Authors


Prolonged exposure to environmental stress activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and generally disrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Because CRF expression in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) is a key modulator in adaptation to chronic stress, and central administration of CRF inhibits the hypothalamic GnRH pulse generator, we tested the hypothesis that overexpression of CRF in the CeA of female rats alters anxiety behavior, dysregulates the HPA axis response to stress, changes pubertal timing, and disrupts reproduction. We used a lentiviral vector to increase CRF expression site specifically in the CeA of preweaning (postnatal day 12) female rats. Overexpression of CRF in the CeA increased anxiety-like behavior in peripubertal rats shown by a reduction in time spent in the open arms of the elevated plus maze and a decrease in social interaction. Paradoxically, puberty onset was advanced but followed by irregular estrous cyclicity and an absence of spontaneous preovulatory LH surges associated with proestrous vaginal cytology in rats overexpressing CRF. Despite the absence of change in basal corticosterone secretion or induced by stress (lipopolysaccharide or restraint), overexpression of CRF in the CeA significantly decreased lipopolysaccharide, but not restraint, stress-induced suppression of pulsatile LH secretion in postpubertal ovariectomized rats, indicating a differential stress responsivity of the GnRH pulse generator to immunological stress and a potential adaptation of the HPA axis to chronic activation of amygdaloid CRF. These data suggest that the expression profile of this key limbic brain CRF system might contribute to the complex neural mechanisms underlying the increasing incidence of early onset of puberty on the one hand and infertility on the other attributed to chronic stress in modern human society.

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