PLoS biology

Brain endothelial cells control fertility through ovarian-steroid-dependent release of semaphorin 3A.

PMID 24618750


Neuropilin-1 (Nrp1) guides the development of the nervous and vascular systems, but its role in the mature brain remains to be explored. Here we report that the expression of the 65 kDa isoform of Sema3A, the ligand of Nrp1, by adult vascular endothelial cells, is regulated during the ovarian cycle and promotes axonal sprouting in hypothalamic neurons secreting gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the neuropeptide controlling reproduction. Both the inhibition of Sema3A/Nrp1 signaling and the conditional deletion of Nrp1 in GnRH neurons counteract Sema3A-induced axonal sprouting. Furthermore, the localized intracerebral infusion of Nrp1- or Sema3A-neutralizing antibodies in vivo disrupts the ovarian cycle. Finally, the selective neutralization of endothelial-cell Sema3A signaling in adult Sema3aloxP/loxP mice by the intravenous injection of the recombinant TAT-Cre protein alters the amplitude of the preovulatory luteinizing hormone surge, likely by perturbing GnRH release into the hypothalamo-hypophyseal portal system. Our results identify a previously unknown function for 65 kDa Sema3A-Nrp1 signaling in the induction of axonal growth, and raise the possibility that endothelial cells actively participate in synaptic plasticity in specific functional domains of the adult central nervous system, thus controlling key physiological functions such as reproduction.