A "missing link" between stress and infertility was discovered

A "missing link" between stress and infertility was discovered

A population of nerve cells located at the base of the brain - called RFRP neurons - become active in stressful situations and then inhibit the reproductive system, researchers from the University of Otago (New Zealand) confirmed in laboratory tests.

This discovery is the "missing link" that connects two processes: stress and infertility.


The research was led by prof. Greg Anderson from the Center for Neuroendocrinology in New Zealand. In recent years, he says, there has been a real revolution in neuroscience. Researchers have learned to control the activity of selected groups of neurons. "We now have the ability to mute or increase their activity, and then monitor the results," says the professor.

“In this study, we used state-of-the-art transgenic techniques to show that when the activity of RFRP cells is increased, the activity of the organism's reproductive functions is suppressed. And this is a situation analogous to what we deal with during stress or exposure to the stress hormone cortisol, ”he says.

“Surprisingly, when we used cortisol to silence the reproductive hormones but also suppressed the activity of RFRP neurons, the reproductive system continued to function as if cortisol wasn't there at all. This confirmed us unequivocally that RFRPs are a key piece of the stress-reproductive puzzle. This reaction was most pronounced in women, ”explains Anderson, who has been researching the role of RFRP neurons in controlling fertility in mammals for 10 years.

“I was then interested in whether these neurons could be the cause of the suppression of fertility that occurs during chronic stress. This is what I read somewhere about the information that RFRPs become active during stress. And I've spent the entire last decade looking for an answer to this question, ”he says.


Anderson explains that while it has long been known that hormones such as cortisol are most likely an important part of the mechanism between stress and fertility disorders, we were still unable to answer the question of what is behind this correlation.

“Only now have we managed to show that the missing link are RFRP neurons. They become active in stressful situations, perhaps in response to rising cortisol levels, and then inhibit the reproductive system, ”he says.

In his opinion, it is quite possible that the action of RFRP neurons could be blocked using drugs, which would counteract their negative impact on fertility. The professor intends to address this topic in his next study.

"Me and my team would like to see if it is possible to overcome stress-induced infertility with drugs that block the action of RFRP neurons," he explains. - For women struggling with this problem, such drugs would be a real breakthrough. And from what we know about RFRP neurons, such pharmaceuticals would not have any side effects. "

The discovery was published in the Journal of Neuroscience ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1062-20.2020 ). (PAP)

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