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Physiol Rev. 2001 Jul;81(3):1197-267.

Gene regulation in the magnocellular hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system.

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Rudolf Magnus Institute for Neurosciences, Section of Molecular Neuroscience, Department of Medical Pharmacology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system (HNS) is the major peptidergic neurosecretory system through which the brain controls peripheral physiology. The hormones vasopressin and oxytocin released from the HNS at the neurohypophysis serve homeostatic functions of water balance and reproduction. From a physiological viewpoint, the core question on the HNS has always been, "How is the rate of hormone production controlled?" Despite a clear description of the physiology, anatomy, cell biology, and biochemistry of the HNS gained over the last 100 years, this question has remained largely unanswered. However, recently, significant progress has been made through studies of gene identity and gene expression in the magnocellular neurons (MCNs) that constitute the HNS. These are keys to mechanisms and events that exist in the HNS. This review is an inventory of what we know about genes expressed in the HNS, about the regulation of their expression in response to physiological stimuli, and about their function. Genes relevant to the central question include receptors and signal transduction components that receive and process the message that the organism is in demand of a neurohypophysial hormone. The key players in gene regulatory events, the transcription factors, deserve special attention. They do not only control rates of hormone production at the level of the gene, but also determine the molecular make-up of the cell essential for appropriate development and physiological functioning. Finally, the HNS neurons are equipped with a machinery to produce and secrete hormones in a regulated manner. With the availability of several gene transfer approaches applicable to the HNS, it is anticipated that new insights will be obtained on how the HNS is able to respond to the physiological demands for its hormones.

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