Appropriate tissue-specific gene expression of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is critical for pubertal development and maintenance of reproductive competence. In these studies, a common element in the mouse GnRH (mGnRH) promoter, between -2806 and -2078 bp, is shown to mediate differential regulation of hypothalamic and ovarian mGnRH expression. To further characterize this region, we generated a knock-out mouse (GREKO-/-) with a deletion of them GnRH promoter fragment between -2806 and -2078 bp. GnRH mRNA expression in the brain of GREKO-/- was less than the expression in wild-type mice; however, immunohistochemical analysis revealed no difference between the numbers of GnRH neurons among groups. GnRH mRNA expression in the ovary was fivefold higher in GREKO-/-. The immunohistochemical staining for GnRH in the ovary increased in surface epithelial and granulosa cells and also in the corpora lutea of GREKO-/- mice. The reproductive phenotype revealed that the mean day of vaginal opening was delayed, and additionally, there was a significant decrease in the length of proestrus and diestrus-metestrus phases of the estrous cycle, resulting in a shortened estrous cycle in GREKO-/- mice. This work supports the hypothesis that the region of the GnRH promoter contained between -2806 and -2078 bp acts as a cell-specific enhancer in the GnRH neuron and as a repressor in the ovary. Deletion of this region in vivo implicates the GnRH promoter in mediating pubertal development and periodic reproductive cycling, and forms the foundation to define the nuclear proteins important for puberty and estrous cycling in mammals.
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