Reproductive function in all vertebrates is controlled by the brain-pituitary-gonadal axis. In teleost fish, endocrine cells within the adenohypophysis are grouped together and each collection of cells is innervated by specific neuropeptide fibers. An important regulatory step in reproductive control is gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), whose delivery to the pituitary is responsible for its release of gonadotropins. The hormone GnRH has been shown to play a critical role in the social control of reproduction in a teleost fish, Haplochromis burtoni. However, there has been no direct evidence that the preoptic area GnRH neurons project to the pituitary. In this study, we used a retrograde tracer and immunohistochemistry to identify those GnRH containing neurons that project to the adenohypophysis. We compared reproductively active territorial males with quiescent non-territorial males to discover whether the connectivity of the preoptic area GnRH neurons depends on the reproductive status of the male. We found that, irrespective of reproductive status, most GnRH neurons in the preoptic area project to the pituitary and that all of these GnRH neurons show the soma size change that has been associated with reproductive status in Hapiochromis burtoni. Based on these data, we propose that there is a single population of GnRH containing cells in the preoptic area that change size as a function of reproductive state and that this entire population projects to the pituitary. This is the first direct demonstration that this essential circuit, linking GnRH neurons in the preoptic area to the pituitary, exists.

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