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Endocrinology. 2011 Sep;152(9):3396-408. doi: 10.1210/en.2010-1415. Epub 2011 Jun 28.

Early metabolic programming of puberty onset: impact of changes in postnatal feeding and rearing conditions on the timing of puberty and development of the hypothalamic kisspeptin system.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Physiology and Immunology, University of Córdoba, Avda. Menéndez Pidal s/n. 14004 Córdoba, Spain.


Kiss1 neurons have recently emerged as a putative conduit for the metabolic gating of reproduction, with leptin being a regulator of hypothalamic Kiss1 expression. Early perturbations of the nutritional status are known to predispose to different metabolic disorders later in life and to alter the timing of puberty; however, the potential underlying mechanisms remain poorly defined. Here we report how changes in the pattern of postnatal feeding affect the onset of puberty and evaluate key hormonal and neuropeptide [Kiss1/kisspeptin (Kp)] alterations linked to these early nutritional manipulations. Female rats were raised in litters of different sizes: small (four pups per dam: overfeeding), normal (12 pups per dam), and large litters (20 pups per litter: underfeeding). Postnatal overfeeding resulted in persistently increased body weight and earlier age of vaginal opening, as an external sign of puberty, together with higher levels of leptin and hypothalamic Kiss1 mRNA. Conversely, postnatal underfeeding caused a persistent reduction in body weight, lower ovarian and uterus weights, and delayed vaginal opening, changes that were paralleled by a decrease in leptin and Kiss1 mRNA levels. Kisspeptin-52 immunoreactivity (Kp-IR) in the hypothalamus displayed similar patterns, with lower numbers of Kp-IR neurons in the arcuate nucleus of postnatally underfed animals, and a trend for increased Kp-positive fibers in the periventricular area of early overfed rats. Yet, gonadotropin responses to Kp at puberty were similar in all groups, except for enhanced responsiveness to low doses of Kp-10 in postnatally underfed rats. In conclusion, our data document that the timing of puberty is sensitive to both overfeeding and subnutrition during early (postnatal) periods and suggest that alterations in hypothalamic expression of Kiss1/kisspeptin may underlie at least part of such programming phenomenon.

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