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J Neurosci. 2016 Mar 23;36(12):3506-18. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2723-15.2016.

Deletion of Vax1 from Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Neurons Abolishes GnRH Expression and Leads to Hypogonadism and Infertility.

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Department of Reproductive Medicine and the Center for Reproductive Science and Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0674, and.
Department of Applied Biological Science, Graduate School of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Fuchu-shi 183-8509, Japan.
Department of Reproductive Medicine and the Center for Reproductive Science and Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0674, and


Hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons are at the apex of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis that regulates mammalian fertility. Herein we demonstrate a critical role for the homeodomain transcription factor ventral anterior homeobox 1 (VAX1) in GnRH neuron maturation and show that Vax1 deletion from GnRH neurons leads to complete infertility in males and females. Specifically, global Vax1 knock-out embryos had normal numbers of GnRH neurons at 13 d of gestation, but no GnRH staining was detected by embryonic day 17. To identify the role of VAX1 specifically in GnRH neuron development,Vax1(flox)mice were generated and lineage tracing performed in Vax1(flox/flox):GnRH(cre):RosaLacZ mice. This identified VAX1 as essential for maintaining expression of Gnrh1 The absence of GnRH staining in adult Vax1(flox/flox):GnRH(cre)mice led to delayed puberty, hypogonadism, and infertility. To address the mechanism by which VAX1 maintains Gnrh1 transcription, the capacity of VAX1 to regulate Gnrh1 transcription was evaluated in the GnRH cell lines GN11 and GT1-7. As determined by luciferase and electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we found VAX1 to be a direct activator of the GnRH promoter through binding to four ATTA sites in the GnRH enhancer (E1) and proximal promoter (P), and able to compete with the homeoprotein SIX6 for occupation of the identified ATTA sites in the GnRH promoter. We conclude that VAX1 is expressed in GnRH neurons where it is required for GnRH neuron expression of GnRH and maintenance of fertility in mice.


Infertility classified as idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (IHH) is characterized by delayed or absent sexual maturation and low sex steroid levels due to alterations in neuroendocrine control of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. The incidence of IHH is 1-10 cases per 100,000 births. Although extensive efforts have been invested in identifying genes giving rise to IHH, >50% of cases have unknown genetic origins. We recently showed that haploinsufficiency of ventral anterior homeobox 1 (Vax1) leads to subfertility, making it a candidate in polygenic IHH. In this study, we investigate the mechanism by which VAX1 controls fertility finding that VAX1 is required for maintenance of Gnrh1 gene expression and deletion of Vax1 from GnRH neurons leads to complete infertility.


GnRH; fertility; hypogonadism; transcription; ventral anterior homeobox

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