Understanding the hypothalamic factors regulating reproduction facilitates maximising the reproductive success of breeding programmes and in the management and conservation of threatened species, including African lions. To provide insight into the physiology and pathophysiology of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal reproductive axis in lions, we studied the luteinising hormone (LH) and steroid hormone responses to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and its upstream regulator, kisspeptin. Six young (13.3 ± 1.7 months, 56.2 ± 4.3 kg) and four adult (40.2 ± 1.4 months, 174 ± 6 kg) male lions (Ukutula Conservation Centre, South Africa) were used in this study. Lions were immobilised with a combination of medetomidine and ketamine and an intravenous catheter was placed in a jugular, cephalic or medial saphenous vein for blood sampling at 10-min intervals for 220 min. The ten-amino acid kisspeptin which has full intrinsic activity (KP-10, 1 µg/kg) and GnRH (1 µg/kg) were administered intravenously to study their effects on LH and steroid hormone plasma concentrations, measured subsequently by ELISA and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), respectively. Basal LH levels were similarly low between the age groups, but testosterone and its precursor levels were higher in the adult animals. Adult lions showed a significant LH response to KP-10 (10-fold) and GnRH (11-fold) administration (p < 0.05 and P < 0.001, respectively) whereas in young lions LH increased significantly only in response to GnRH. In adults alone, testosterone and its precursors steadily increased in response to KP-10, with no significant further increase in response to GnRH. Plasma levels of glucocorticoids in response to KP-10 remained unchanged. We suggest that provocative testing of LH and steroid stimulation with kisspeptin provides a new and sensitive tool for determining reproductive status and possibly an index of exposure to stress, environmental insults such as disease, endocrine disruptors and nutritional status. 272 words.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114127
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Animals
  • Male
  • Kisspeptins
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Lions
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Social Status
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Reproduction
  • Testosterone
  • Environment


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