Researchers find 'missing link' between stress and infertility

Cortisol
Ball-and-stick model of the cortisol (hydrocortisone) molecule. Credit: Public Domain

Otago researchers have found the "missing link between stress and infertility." Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, and led by Professor Greg Anderson of the Centre for Neuroendocrinology, the research has confirmed in laboratory testing that a population of nerve cells near the base of the brain—the RFRP neurons—become active in stressful situations and then suppress the reproductive system.

"A revolutionary step forward that has become available to neuroscientists in recent years is the ability to control the activity of selected groups of neurons—to either silence or ramp up their activity, and then monitor the outcomes," Professor Anderson says.

"We used cutting edge transgenic techniques to show that when the activity of the RFRP cells is increased, reproductive hormones are suppressed—in a similar manner to what happens during stress, or during exposure to the .

"Amazingly, when we used to suppress the reproductive hormones but also silenced the RFRP neurons, the reproductive system continued to function as if cortisol wasn't there at all—proving that the RFRP neurons are a critical piece of the puzzle in stress-induced suppression of reproduction."

The reaction was most evident in females.

Professor Anderson started researching the role of RFRP neurons in controlling fertility in mammals about a decade ago.

"I became interested in whether these neurons might be what causes fertility to be suppressed during , after reading that these cells become active during stress. This is a question that has remained stubbornly unanswered over the past decades.

"Although it is known that stress steroids—like cortisol—are probably part of the mechanism involved, it is also known that the brain cells that control reproduction are unable to respond to cortisol, so there seemed to be a missing link in the circuit somewhere.

"We have now shown that the RFRP neurons are indeed the missing link between stress and infertility. They become active in —perhaps by sensing the increasing levels of cortisol—and they then suppress the reproductive system."

It is possible drugs could be used to block the actions of the RFRP neurons, and that will be the focus of further research for Professor Anderson.

"We'd like to see if we can overcome -induced infertility using drugs which block the actions of the RFRP neurons.

"For women struggling with infertility, drugs which block the actions of the RFRP neurons may prove to be a novel therapy. From what we know about these , such a drug wouldn't have any side-effects.

"There are such drugs available, but they're not approved for and they would likely need refining," he says.


Explore further

Blocking hormone could eliminate stress-induced infertility

More information: Asha Mamgain et al. RFamide-related peptide neurons modulate reproductive function and stress responses, The Journal of Neuroscience (2020). DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1062-20.2020
Journal information: Journal of Neuroscience

Citation: Researchers find 'missing link' between stress and infertility (2020, December 4) retrieved 15 January 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-link-stress-infertility.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
11 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments