Photoperiod determines the timing of reproductive activity in many species, yet the neural pathways whereby day length is transduced to a signal influencing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) release are not fully understood. Physical lesions of the lateral preoptic area (lPOA)/rostral anterior hypothalamic area (rAHA) in female sheep extend the period of estrous cyclicity during inhibitory photoperiods. In the present study we sought to determine whether destroying only neurons and not fibers of passage in this area would lead to similar resistance to photosuppression. Additionally, neural tract-tracing was used to map connectivity between the lPOA/rAHA and other hypothalamic areas implicated in photoperiodic regulation of reproduction. Progesterone secretion was monitored in six sheep to determine estrous cycles for 90 days during a short-day (permissive) photoperiod. Three sheep then received bilateral injections of the excitotoxic glutamate analog, n-methyl-aspartic acid, directed toward the lPOA/rAHA, whereas three others served as controls. All were then exposed to a long-day (suppressive) photoperiod for 120 days. Control sheep ceased cycling at 40 ± 10 days (mean ± SEM), whereas lesioned sheep continued cycling through the end of the study. The results of the tract-tracing study revealed both afferent and efferent projections to the medial POA, retrochiasmatic area, arcuate nucleus, and premammillary region. Furthermore, close proximal associations with GnRH neurons from efferent projections were observed. We conclude that neurons located within the lPOA/rAHA are important for timing cessation of estrous cycles during photosuppression and that this area communicates directly with GnRH neurons and other hypothalamic areas involved in the photoperiodic regulation of reproduction.
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Vol. 85 • No. 5