In humans and in several animal species, puberty results from changes in pulsatile gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion in the hypothalamus. In particular, the frequency of pulsatile GnRH secretion increases at the onset of puberty, as can be shown by using hypothalamic explants of male rats of 15 and 25 d. Previous observations from us and others suggested that the initiation of puberty could involve a facilitatory effect of excitatory amino acids mediated through N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. We found that GnRH secretion could be activated through NMDA receptors only around the time of onset of puberty (25 d). The aim of this study was to clarify why this activation did not occur earlier (at 15 d) and could no longer be observed by the end of puberty (at 50 d). We studied GnRH secretion in the presence of MK-801, a noncompetitive antagonist of NMDA receptors or AP-5, a competitive antagonist. We showed that, in the hypothalamus of immature male rats (15 d), a highly potent inhibitory control of pulsatile GnRH secretion in vitro was mediated through NMDA receptors. These data were confirmed in vivo because administration of the antagonist MK-801 (0.001 mg/kg) to immature male rats resulted in early pubertal development. Onset of puberty (25 d) was characterized by the disappearance of that NMDA receptor-mediated inhibition, thus unmasking a facilitatory effect also mediated through NMDA receptors. During puberty, there was a reduction in activity of this facilitatory control which was no longer opposed by its inhibitory counterpart. We conclude that a sequential reduction in activity of inhibitory and facilitatory NMDA receptors provides a developmental basis for the neuroendocrine mechanism of onset of puberty.
J P Bourguignon, A Gérard, M L Alvarez Gonzalez, P Franchimont