The role of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)--NR2b subunit in female reproductive aging
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Reproductive senescence in females is a natural part of the aging process. However, the process by which it occurs, and the relative role of each level of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, remains largely unknown. The neural circuitry regulating the hypothalamic axis, including glutamate acting through N-Methyl-D-Aspartate receptors (NMDARs) on GnRH neurons, appears to be key to this process. The NMDAR is tetrameric and composed of an obligatory NR1 subunit together with NR2 subunits. The subunit composition determines the channel kinetics of the receptor and changes through the life span. This dissertation examines the physiological role of the NR2b subunit on LH pulsatile release and LH surge, both important for reproductive function. The expression of NR2b subunits in the anteroventral periventricular (AVPV) nucleus of the hypothalamus was also examined in aging rats. Experiment 1 showed that the NR2b-antagonist, ifenprodil, enhanced pulsatile LH release in estradioltreated females (both age groups). Experiment 2 showed that the LH surge in middle-aged animals was slightly accelerated and that results were dependent upon prior reproductive status of the animals. In Experiment 3, examination of the NR2b-immunoreactive cell population in young, middle-aged, and aged ovariectomized females given vehicle, estradiol, or estradiol with progesterone showed an age-associated decline in NR2b density. However, the immunofluorescent fraction volume of NR1 colocalized with NR2b increased with aging, and that of immunofluorescent fraction volume of NR2b increased with estradiol treatment. This is indicative of the amount of protein expressed in the AVPV. In total, NR2b cell density in the AVPV declines with age, but the amount of NR2b expressed in NR1-positive cells increases, suggesting a larger population of NR2b containing channels. This may translate to age-associated inhibition of GnRH/LH activity, which is relieved with blockade of NR2bcontaining NMDARs. Thus, this dissertation describes a novel way to examine the mechanism by which age-associated changes to neuromodulators of the HPG axis may affect the onset of reproductive senescence.