Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is essential for reproductive function, is made by neurones that migrate from the nasal region into the brain during early embryonic development. This migration begins in chick when the olfactory pit is formed. This is approximately the time that GnRH neurones can be detected immunocytochemically. The present study investigated (i) how early in development the GnRH gene is expressed and (ii) the sites of its expression. Accordingly, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and in situ hybridization were performed on chick embryos before gastrulation up until the stage by which GnRH neurones have begun to migrate into the central nervous system. Primers were made to the 5′- and 3′-UTR region of the message for cGnRH-I, the form of the peptide that is essential for reproductive function in the chicken. PCR product was found in all stages and the sequences of products from all stages were identical. Thus, the GnRH gene is expressed continuously throughout embryonic development. In situ hybridization with a digoxygenin labelled riboprobe revealed staining along the primitive streak immediately before gastrulation. In later stages, cGnRH-I gene expression was seen in association with the anterior neural ridge. The expression was subsequently restricted to a narrow, clearly defined region, which is associated with the presumptive nasal cavity and olfactory placode. Later, GnRH neurones could be seen in their migratory routes by both in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry. Expression of the GnRH gene has been described in preimplantation stages in mammals and there is evidence that the neuropeptide plays a role in formation and maintenance of the placenta. What role (if any) it may play in early avian development remains unknown. The demonstration of sites of GnRH expression during the early period of neurulation suggests that GnRH neurones arise before olfactory placode formation.
- In situ hybridization