Neuroendocrine control of organ growth and sexual maturation

Lines of investigation

During development, the release of circulating steroid hormones from neuroendocrine circuits induces a shift from juvenile growth to sexual maturation in humans and insects alike. The initiation of this change is a strictly controlled process, requiring the evaluation of checkpoints based on nutrient levels and growth status to decide whether to activate these neuroendocrine circuits and release steroids that trigger maturation or continue juvenile development.

How exactly these external and internal cues are integrated to dictate when an animal can reach sexual maturity, as well as what molecular and cellular mechanisms acting at the level of neuroendocrine cells trigger this critical decision, remains a fascinating mystery.

Childhood obesity, the prevalence of which is increasing to pandemic proportions, has been associated with precocious puberty in girls. On the other hand, malnutrition and intensive physical training can delay puberty. Previous work in mice and humans has also shown that a deficiency of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells, or its receptors, which signal the amount of energy stores in the body in neuroendocrine circuits, leads to hyperphagia, early-onset obesity and delayed or complete inability to initiate the pubertal transition.

By using Drosophila, we aim to uncover the molecular and cellular mechanisms and neuroendocrine circuits required for the regulation of sexual maturation and body weight control.

Representative Publications

Research groups of Unit

Developmental Neurobiology

Research groups of Scientific Program