What is it about?

A wide range of basic body processes, including growth, stress, and reproduction are controlled by the cross-talk between a region of the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. How exactly this communication ensues remains enigmatic. In this study, we measured the activity of neurons in the hypothalamus in freely behaving mice to investigate how they control the pituitary secretion of the key reproductive hormone prolactin. We found that a complex spatial and temporal series of stimuli from these neurons is integrated to create coordinate release of prolactin from the cells of the pituitary gland. These results provide a broad physiological mechanism for the dialogue that occurs between the brain and pituitary to dictate hormone rhythms over multiple timescales.

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Why is it important?

We precisely determine how the hypothalamus produces signals (in the form of dopamine molecules) for communicating with the pituitary. This is a key physiological question that had not been determined in living animals before. We also provide clues on how the activity of a vastly heterogeneous population of neurons, "speaking with a variety of voices" can come together to produce a coordinated response from the pituitary gland.

Perspectives

This was an incredible opportunity to see how two organs (brain and pituitary) communicate in a living animal in real-time. Although we have known about hormones and the mechanisms controlling them for a very long time, there are still exciting things to discover!

Nicola Romano
University of Edinburgh

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This page is a summary of: Multiple-scale neuroendocrine signals connect brain and pituitary hormone rhythms, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2017, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1616864114.
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