The neuropeptide control of gonadotropin secretion is primarily through the stimulatory action of the hypothalamic decapeptide, GnRH. We recently identified a novel hypothalamic dodecapeptide with a C-terminal Leu-Pro-Leu-Arg-Phe-NH2 sequence in the domestic bird, Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica). This novel peptide inhibited gonadotropin release in vitro from the quail anterior pituitary; thus it was named gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH). GnIH may be an important factor regulating reproductive activity not only in domesticated birds but also in wild, seasonally breeding birds. Thus, we tested synthetic quail GnIH in seasonally breeding wild bird species. In an in vivo experiment, chicken gonadotropin-releasing hormone-I (cGnRH-I alone or a cGnRH-I/quail GnIH cocktail was injected i.v. into non-breeding song sparrows (Melospiza melodia). Quail GnIH rapidly (within 2 min) attenuated the GnRH-induced rise in plasma LH. Furthermore, we tested the effects of quail GnIH in castrated, photostimulated Gambel's white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii), using quail GnIH or saline for injection. Again, quail GnIH rapidly reduced plasma LH (within 3 min) compared with controls. To characterize fully the action of GnIH in wild birds, the identification of their endogenous GnIH is essential. Therefore, in the present study a cDNA encoding GnIH in the brain of Gambel's white-crowned sparrow was cloned by a combination of 3′ and 5′ rapid amplification of cDNA ends and compared with the quail GnIH cDNA previously identified. The deduced sparrow GnIH precursor consisted of 173 amino acid residues, encoding one sparrow GnIH and two sparrow GnIH-related peptides (sparrow GnIH-RP-1 and GnIH-RP-2) that included Leu-Pro-Xaa-Arg-Phe-NH2 (Xaa=Leu or Gln) at their C-termini. All these peptide sequences were flanked by a glycine C-terminal amidation signal and a single basic amino acid on each end as an endoproteolytic site. Although the homology of sparrow and quail GnIH precursors was approximately 66%, the C-terminal structures of GnIH, GnIH-RP-1 and GnIH-RP-2 were all identical in two species. In situ hybridization revealed the cellular localization of sparrow GnIH mRNA in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus. Immunohistochemical analysis also showed that sparrow GnIH-like immunoreactive cell bodies and terminals were localized in the PVN and median eminence respectively. Thus, only the sparrow PVN expresses GnIH, which appears to be a hypothalamic inhibitory factor for LH release, as evident from our field injections of GnIH into free-living breeding white-crowned sparrows. Sparrow GnIH rapidly (within 2 min) reduced plasma LH when injected into free-living Gambel's white-crowned sparrows on their breeding grounds in northern Alaska. Taken together, our results indicate that, despite amino acid sequence differences, quail GnIH and sparrow GnIH have similar inhibitory effects on the reproductive axis in wild sparrow species. Thus, GnIH appears to be a modulator of gonadotropin release.
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