mice in laboratoryA recent study brings scientists a step closer to understanding the critical connection between brain function and fertility. Scientists knew that signaling between the protein kisspeptin and its receptor, GPR54, were essential to fertility but did not know where this signaling took place on a cellular level. Researchers at New Zealand's University of Otago discovered this location and determined that kisspeptin plays a crucial role in human fertility.

Signaling between kisspeptin and GPR54 occurs only in a small population of nerve cells, known as GnRH neurons, in the brain. Using state-of-the-art techniques, the Otago team of researchers examined mice that lacked the GPR54 receptors in the GnRH neurons. They found the mice did not go through puberty and were therefore infertile. When researchers introduced the GPR54 gene to the receptors in the GnRH neurons, however, the mice went through puberty and showed signs of fertility, including signaling between kisspeptin and GPR54. In this study, researchers showed the GnRH neuron is the key site for kisspeptin-GPR54 signaling necessary for fertility.

The research findings bring fertility experts closer to finding new treatments for infertility and developing new classes of contraceptives. Neuroscientist and leader of the study, Professor Allan Herbison says, "Our new understanding of the exact mechanism by which kisspeptin acts as a master controller of reproduction is an exciting breakthrough which opens up avenues for tackling what is often a very heart-breaking health issue. Through detailing this mechanism we now have a key chemical switch to which drugs can be precisely targeted."

Infertility is a problem in the United States and worldwide. The Office on Women’s Health of the Department of Health and Human Services estimates 6.1 million, or 10 percent of U.S. women ages 15 to 44 have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Research like that performed at New Zealand's University of Otago promises new hope for couples struggling with infertility.


  • Kirilov, Milen, et al. "Dependence of fertility on kisspeptin–Gpr54 signaling at the GnRH neuron." Nature Communications. 20 Sept 2013. Web. 30 Sept 2013. 
  • "Infertility Fact Sheet." Office on Women’s Health. Department of Health and Human Services. 16 July 2012. Web. 30 Sept 2013.