Gonadal steroid hormones and hypothalamic opioid circuitry

Ronald P. Hammer, Lei Zhou, Sun Cheung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Endogenous opioid peptides derived from several gene families are localized within hypothalamic regions known to be involved in the regulation of reproduction. For example, the proenkephalin gene products, met- and leu-enkephalin, and the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) gene product, β-endorphin, are found in the rat medial preoptic area (MPOA). Moreover, the expression of these peptides and their receptors varies across the estrous cycle in the female rat. We have examined the gonadal steroid regulation of μ-opiate receptors and opioid peptides in the MPOA, and POMC mRNA expression in neurons that innervate the MPOA. μ-Opiate receptors in the MPOA are sexually dimorphic and gonadal steroid hormone-dependent. Hormonal priming of ovariectomized rats with estrogen and progesterone (P) upregulates MPOA μ-receptors 27, but not 3, hr after P treatment. Inhibition of protein synthesis during the first 6 hr after P prevents receptor upregulation, The density of β-endorphin fibers in the MPOA also increases following hormone treatment, and POMC mRNA expression in neurons that innervate the MPOA is induced by hormone treatment beginning 13 hr after P treatment. This delayed response might be ubiquitous among POMC neurons, as those innervating the median eminence also exhibit increased POMC mRNA expression along a similar time course. The results suggest that hormonal feedback regulates opioid peptides which act at μ-receptors in the MPOA to influence reproductive behavior and cyclicity. These opioid functions represent an important component in the complex regulatory processes which control reproduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-437
Number of pages7
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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