Encoding and Decoding Mechanisms of Pulsatile Hormone Secretion

J.J. Walker, J.R. Terry, K. Tsaneva-Atanasova, S.P. Armstrong, C.A. McArdle, S.L. Lightman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Ultradian pulsatile hormone secretion underlies the activity of most neuroendocrine systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) and gonadal (HPG) axes, and this pulsatile mode of signalling permits the encoding of information through both amplitude and frequency modulation. In the HPA axis, glucocorticoid pulse amplitude increases in anticipation of waking, and, in the HPG axis, changing gonadotrophin-releasing hormone pulse frequency is the primary means by which the body alters its reproductive status during development (i.e. puberty). The prevalence of hormone pulsatility raises two crucial questions: how are ultradian pulses encoded (or generated) by these systems, and how are these pulses decoded (or interpreted) at their target sites? We have looked at mechanisms within the HPA axis responsible for encoding the pulsatile mode of glucocorticoid signalling that we observe in vivo. We review evidence regarding the ‘hypothalamic pulse generator’ hypothesis, and describe an alternative model for pulse generation, which involves steroid feedback-dependent endogenous rhythmic activity throughout the HPA axis. We consider the decoding of hormone pulsatility by taking the HPG axis as a model system and focussing on molecular mechanisms of frequency decoding by pituitary gonadotrophs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1226-1238
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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