These studies were done in Gwen V. Childs, Ph.D's lab, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX.
Growth hormone cells are one of the six hormone-bearing cell types in the anterior pituitary. They are the most abundant cell type and secrete growth hormone to increase growth in length of long bones. Other developmental roles have been postulated for growth hormone, however. Our research project is related to one of these. It is linked to infertility studies that show that the addition of growth hormone may be effective in promoting pregnancy in some clinical cases that do not respond to more classical treatment. Physician scientists have suggested that growth hormone may play a permissive role in facilitating ovulation and other events leading up to implantation and successful pregnancy. We are interested in its potential interactions in the pituitary itself. The following menu catalogs the evidence we have thus far for a role for GH at the pituitary level.
GH cells express gonadotropin beta subunit mRNA during diestrus and proestrus (just before the preovulatory surge)
We began this work after we discovered that a subpopulation of GH cells expressed messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) for the beta subunits of gonadotropins just before ovulation. We used dual-labeling that detected mRNA for gonadotropins by in situ hybridization and growth hormone antigens by immunolabeling.
A photograph of a dual-labeled growth hormone cell is shown in this figure. The growth hormone cell (G) is labeled dark orange for growth hormone antigens. The cell also contains messenger RNA for one of the gonadotropins, follicle stimulating hormone. This is labeled dense gray-black (F) U=unlabeled cell. We suggest that it has become a transitional gonadotrope to augment the ovulatory surge of gonadotropins. Also see dual-labeled figures in the sidebar
Counts of cells bearing GH antigens and gonadotropin mRNAs are shown in this graph. These data illustrate that significant percentages of GH cells express LH or FSH mRNA on the day of ovulation. After ovulation, these percentages drop to minimal levels.
For more information, see:
Childs, G.V. , Unabia G., Rougeau D. Cells that Express Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Beta ( ) Subunit mRNAs during the Estrous Cycle: The major contributors contain LH , FSH and/or Growth Hormone, Endocrinology, 134: 990-997 1994.
Hypotheses to test:
There are two working hypotheses to explain this labeling pattern. The first states that subsets of GH cells may become transitional gonadotropes to support the LH surge. They may be the medium-sized subset that appears before ovulation and secretes better than the largest gonadotropes.
The second hypothesis states that GH antigens are binding to GH receptors in gonadotropes. This would point to GH as a regulatory molecule for the gonadotropes themselves. The fact that gonadotropes have GH receptors suggests that they may be able to receive such regulation. However, electron microscopic data shown below indicates that the gonadotropin molecules are being translated by somatotropes which supports the first hypothesis.
These hypotheses were tested in an NIH grant: R01 HD 33915 "Novel Somatotrope functions during ovulation" 1996-2000
Questions that address Hypothesis 1:
Test for GnRH binding: Do GH cells bind the neuropeptide releasing hormone that binds gonadotropes? (Gonadotropin Releasing hormone)
One way to test the first hypothesis would be to determine if the transitional "somatogonadotrope" binds the neuropeptide Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). We used dual affinity cytochemistry labeling protocols to detect GnRH on subsets of pituitary cells and found that cells with GH antigens did increase binding (to about 40% of GH cells) just before ovulation. At the same time, there was an increase in the percentages of gonadotropes that bound GnRH to 90% of gonadotropes. This supports the hypothesis that these GH cells may be transitional gonadotropes. The figure to the left illustrates the dual-labeling data. The figure was reproduced as a negative image to show the labeling better. Growth hormone cells (G) are immunolabeled blue for growth hormone antigens. The white label (arrows) shows that this cell also binds the neuropeptide, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). The labeling is mostly on the cell periphery. This releasing hormone may help convert these cells to transitional gonadotropes just before ovulation.
For more information, please see: Childs, G.V., Unabia, G and Miller, BT Cytochemical detection of GnRH binding sites on rat pituitary cells with LH, FSH and GH antigens during diestrous upregulation. Endocrinology 134: 1943-1951 1994.
Can expression of GnRH receptors by GH cells be regulated by inhibin or activin?
It is well known, from our earlier studies, that percentages of GnRH receptive cells increase 4-fold during diestrus to reach a peak in early proestrus, on the morning before ovulation. Expression of GnRH receptors is seen in over 90% of LH or 88% of FSH cells during this peak. In addition, as shown above, GH cells express GnRH receptors (over 38% of the cells) only during this peak period.
Can this expression be regulated by factors known to stimulate (activin) or inhibit (inhibin) GnRH receptors? Studies recently completed and published show that GnRH receptive cells can be increased in diestrous rat pituitary cells by overnight incubation in 60 ng/ml activin. When the cell types were identified by dual labeling affinity cytochemistry, both LH and FSH gonadotropes were affected. In addition, activin increased GnRH receptor expression by GH cells from either diestrous or proestrous rats. The increase was from 38-60% of GH cells, which is a higher expression than normally seen in proestrus. At the same time, inhibin causes a decrease in expression of GnRH receptors by LH or FSH cells and also GH cells from populations taken from proestrous rats. These data suggest that expression of GnRH receptors by GH cells can be regulated by the reproductive hormones that normally regulate them in gonadotropes.
This photo shows GH cells bound to Biotinylated GnRH. They were taken from Proestrous rats. As in the above photo, the binding is in dense gray or lavendar-black patches on the cells (noted by arrows). The immunolabel for GH is orange-amber.
The following photograph shows the results of treatment with activin for 15 hours. The cells were taken from diestrus rats and treated with 60 ng/ml activin during the culture period. The labeling for Biotinylated GnRH has expanded on the GH cells and is seen to cover a larger part of the surface area (arrows). The GH cells are often in clusters which may suggest that activin has stimulated mitosis. GH is detected by the orange-amber label. This can be measured by image analysis and the increase in the average area of label/cell was statistically significant. The references below point to papers that show these data.
For more information, please see:
Childs GV, Miller, B, and Miller W. 1997 Differential effects of inhibin on gonadotropin stores and gonadotropin releasing hormone binding to pituitary cells from cycling female rats. Endocrinology 138: 1577-1584.
Childs GV and Unabia G 1997 Cytochemical studies of the effects of activin on gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) binding by pituitary gonadotropes and growth hormone cells. J Histochem Cytochem 45: 1603-1610.
Publications describing this work over the past 20 years
- Childs, G.V. , Unabia G., Rougeau D. Cells that Express Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Beta ( ) Subunit mRNAs during the Estrous Cycle: The major contributors contain LH , FSH and/or Growth Hormone, Endocrinology, 134: 990-997 1994.
- Childs, G.V., Unabia, G and Miller, BT Cytochemical detection of GnRH binding sites on rat pituitary cells with LH, FSH and GH antigens during diestrous upregulation. Endocrinology 134: 1943-1951 1994.
- Childs, G.V. Division of Labor among Gonadotropes, Vitamins and Hormones, 50: 217- 283 1995
- Childs, GV, Cytochemical studies of multifunctional gonadotropes. Microscopy Research and Techniques. 39: 114-130, 1997
- Childs GV, Miller, B, and Miller W. 1997 Differential effects of inhibin on gonadotropin stores and gonadotropin releasing hormone binding to pituitary cells from cycling female rats. Endocrinology 138: 1577-1584.
- Childs GV and Unabia G 1997 Cytochemical studies of the effects of activin on gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) binding by pituitary gonadotropes and growth hormone cells. J Histochem Cytochem 45: 1603-1610.
- Childs, GV Geda Unabia, Brian T. Miller, and T. Jackie Collins, Enhanced Expression of Gonadotropins by Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone (GHRH) Target cells from Proestrous female rats J Endocrin. 162: 177-187, 1999
- Childs, GV, Unabia, G, Wu, P. Differential Expression of Growth Hormone mRNA by somatotropes and gonadotropes in male and cycling female rats, Endocrinology, 141:1560-1570, 2000.
- Childs, GV Growth hormone cells as co-gonadotropes: Partners in the regulation of the reproductive system. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 11: 168-174, 2000.
- Childs, GV and Unabia, G, The use of counterflow centrifugation to enrich gonadotropes and somatotropes. J Histochem Cytochem. 49: 663-664 (2001)
- Childs, GV Development of gonadotropes may involve cyclic transdifferentiation of growth hormone cells. Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry 110: 42-49 (2002)
- Childs GV, Iruthayanathan M, Akhter N, Unabia G, Whitehead-Johnson B. 2004 Bipotential Effects of Estrogen on Growth Hormone Synthesis and Storage, in vitro Endocrinology Apr; 146(4):1780-8 (2004).
- Childs GV, Iruthayanathan, M, Akhter, N, and Johnson, BJ. 2006 Estrogen mediated cross talk between the ovary and pituitary somatotrope Pre-ovulatory support for reproductive activity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2006 Mar 9;247(1-2):60-3. Epub 2006 Jan 27. Invited “cutting edge essay”. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2005.12.049
Funding for this work: The studies of Growth hormone expression of gonadotropins during proestrus was funded by a Sealy Smith Development award. The main study of GH relationships with gonadotropes was funded by NIH R01 HD 33915 until early 2002.
For more information, contact:
Gwen Childs, Ph.D.,FAAA
Professor and Chair
Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Little Rock, AR 72205
For questions, contact this email address: