Previous studies have shown that estrogen withdrawal decreases the secretion of β-endorphin from the monkey hypothalamus. In addition, there are consistent age-associated changes in β-endorphin neurons in the rodent. Based on these findings, we hypothesized that the activity of hypothalamic β-endorphin neurons would be decreased in the hypothalamus of postmenopausal women. In the present study, we examined the expression of proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA, the precursor mRNA for β-endorphin, in the medial basal hypothalamus of premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Every 20th sagittal section through the hypothalamus was hybridized with a synthetic [35S]labeled, 48-base oligonucleotide probe complementary to POMC mRNA. Labeled neurons were counted and their somatic profile areas were measured with an image-combining computer microscope system. The number of POMC mRNA-containing neurons/section in the infundibular nucleus was reduced by 65% in postmenopausal women. In contrast, there was no significant difference in the number of neurons expressing POMC gene transcripts in the retrochiasmatic region. The POMC neurons in the retrochiasmatic area were also distinct morphologically from those in the infundibular nucleus. The differences between the infundibular and retrochiasmatic regions suggest that functional subgroups of POMC neurons exist in the human hypothalamus. Our findings provide evidence that the activity of hypothalamic POMC neurons is decreased in the infundibular nucleus of postmenopausal women. Both aging and gonadal steroid withdrawal may contribute to the decline in POMC gene expression in postmenopausal women. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.
- Luteinizing hormone
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience