Dynamic Hormone Control of Stress and Fertility

Eder Zavala, Margaritis Voliotis, Tanja Zerenner, Joël Tabak, Jamie J Walker, Xiao Feng Li, John R Terry, Stafford L Lightman, Kevin O'Byrne, Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Neuroendocrine axes display a remarkable diversity of dynamic signaling processes relaying information between the brain, endocrine glands, and peripheral target tissues. These dynamic processes include oscillations, elastic responses to perturbations, and plastic long term changes observed from the cellular to the systems level. While small transient dynamic changes can be considered physiological, larger and longer disruptions are common in pathological scenarios involving more than one neuroendocrine axes, suggesting that a robust control of hormone dynamics would require the coordination of multiple neuroendocrine clocks. The idea of apparently different axes being in fact exquisitely intertwined through neuroendocrine signals can be investigated in the regulation of stress and fertility. The stress response and the reproductive cycle are controlled by the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal (HPG) axis, respectively. Despite the evidence surrounding the effects of stress on fertility, as well as of the reproductive cycle on stress hormone dynamics, there is a limited understanding on how perturbations in one neuroendocrine axis propagate to the other. We hypothesize that the links between stress and fertility can be better understood by considering the HPA and HPG axes as coupled systems. In this manuscript, we investigate neuroendocrine rhythms associated to the stress response and reproduction by mathematically modeling the HPA and HPG axes as a network of interlocked oscillators. We postulate a network architecture based on physiological data and use the model to predict responses to stress perturbations under different hormonal contexts: normal physiological, gonadectomy, hormone replacement with estradiol or corticosterone (CORT), and high excess CORT (hiCORT) similar to hypercortisolism in humans. We validate our model predictions against experiments in rodents, and show how the dynamic responses of these endocrine axes are consistent with our postulated network architecture. Importantly, our model also predicts the conditions that ensure robustness of fertility to stress perturbations, and how chronodisruptions in glucocorticoid hormones can affect the reproductive axis' ability to withstand stress. This insight is key to understand how chronodisruption leads to disease, and to design interventions to restore normal rhythmicity and health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)598845
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020 Zavala, Voliotis, Zerenner, Tabak, Walker, Li, Terry, Lightman, O'Byrne and Tsaneva-Atanasova.


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