Temperate zone animals exhibit seasonal variation in reproductive physiology. In most cases, seasonal changes in reproductive states are regulated by changes in GnRH1 secretion, rather than synthesis, from the preoptic area (POA)/anterior hypothalamus. An important exception occurs in some songbirds that become photorefractory to the stimulatory effects of long days and show profound decreases in brain GnRH1 protein content. Whether this decline reflects changes in gene expression is unknown because of past failures to measure GNRH1 mRNA levels, due in large part to the absence of available GNRH1 gene sequence in this taxon. Here, we report the first cloning of GNRH1 cDNAs in two songbirds: European starlings and zebra finches. Consistent with the size of the prepro-hormone in other avian and non-avian species, the open-reading frames predict proteins of 91 and 92 amino acids, respectively. Whereas the decapeptide in both species is perfectly conserved with chicken GnRH1, the amino acid identity in the signal peptide and GNRH associated peptide subdomains are significantly less well conserved. At the nucleotide level, the starling and zebra finch coding sequences are approximately 88% identical to each other but only approximately 70% identical to chicken GNRH1. In situ hybridization using radiolabeled cRNA probes demonstrated GNRH1 mRNA expression primarily in the POA, consistent with previous studies on the distribution of the GnRH1-immunoreactive cell bodies. Furthermore, we provide evidence for photoperiod-dependent regulation of GNRH1 mRNA in male starlings. Declines in GNRH1 mRNA levels occur in parallel with testicular involution. Thus, photorefractoriness is associated with decreases in GNRH1 gene expression in the medial POA.
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