The middle-age decline in reproductive function is manifested by reduced LHRH release, resulting in a decreased magnitude and delay of onset of the LH surge. Earlier studies suggested that the reductions in LHRH neural activation in middle-aged rats resulted from deficits in the afferent drive to the LHRH neurons. One critical afferent to the LHRH neurons lies in the anteroventral periventricular preoptic area (AVPv) nucleus. The neurons of the medial AVPv are synchronously activated to express Fos with LHRH neurons at the time of an LH surge in young adult animals. The present study examined whether, in middle age, reductions in the activation of AVPv neurons accompany the reduction in Fos activation in LHRH neurons. Young (3- to 4-month-old) and middle-aged (10- to 12-month-old) spontaneously cycling and ovariectomized steroid-replaced rats were killed during peak and early descending phase of the LH surge, and their brains were examined for Fos in LHRH and AVPv neurons. Young animals had a characteristic increase in Fos expression in both LHRH and AVPv neurons. In middle-aged rats, the proportion of LHRH neurons expressing Fos at the time of an LH surge was reduced by approximately 50%, irrespective of whether surges were spontaneous or induced by exogenous steroids. A similar reduction in the number of Fos+ cells (by approximately 50%) was noted in the medial AVPv. Linear regression analysis of the relationship between the extent of Fos activation in LHRH and AVPv neurons revealed a strong positive correlation (r2 = 0.66; P < 0.01), suggesting that changes in the AVPv's drive to LHRH neurons underlie the decrease in LHRH activity in middle age. A second series of experiments examined whether decreased input from the AVPv could account for reduced Fos activation in LHRH neurons seen in middle-aged animals. When the medial AVPv was lesioned, LHRH neurons failed to express Fos on the side ipsilateral to the lesion. Animals with lesioned medial AVPv also had significantly lower LH values than animals with an intact medial AVPv. Taken together, these data suggest that a principal deficit in middle-aged rats is the ability of the medial AVPv to stimulate LHRH neurons.
ASJC Scopus subject areas