Hypothalamic-hypophysiotropic peptides are the proximate regulators of pituitary cells, but they cannot fully account for the complex functioning of these cells. Accordingly, awareness is growing that an array of peptides produced in the pituitary exert paracrine/autocrine functions. One such peptide, pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), was originally identified as a hypothalamic activator of cAMP production in pituitary cells. Gonadotrophs and folliculostellate cells are the main source of pituitary PACAP, and each pituitary cell type expresses a PACAP receptor. PACAP increases alpha-subunit (Cga) and Lhb mRNAs, and it stimulates the transcription of follistatin (Fst) that, in turn, restrains activin signaling to repress Fshb and gonadotropin-releasing hormone-receptor (Gnrhr) expression as well as other activin-responsive genes. The PACAP (Adcyap1) promoter is activated by cAMP, and pituitary cells may communicate by a feed-forward, cAMP-dependent mechanism to maintain a high level of PACAP in the fetal pituitary. At birth, pituitary PACAP declines and pituitary follistatin levels decrease, which together with increased gonadotropin-releasing hormone secretion allow Gnrhr and Fshb to increase and facilitate activation of the newborn gonads. Changes in Adcyap1 expression levels in the adult pituitary may contribute to the selective rise in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from age 20–30 days to the midcycle surge and to the secondary increase in FSH that occurs before estrus. These results provide further support for the notion that PACAP is a key player in reproduction through its actions as a pituitary autocrine/paracrine hormone.
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Vol. 84 • No. 5