Integrative and Comparative Biology
A key question in the evolution of life history and in evolutionary physiology asks how reproductive and other life-history traits evolve. Genetic variation in reproductive control systems may exist in many elements of the complex inputs that call affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) or reproductive axis. Such variation could include numbers and other traits of secretory cells, the amount and pattern of chemical message released, transport and clearance mechanisms, and the number and other traits of receptor cells. Selection lines created from a natural population of white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) that contains substantial genetic variation in reproductive inhibition in response to short winter daylength (SD) have been used to examine neuroendocrine variation in reproductive timing. We hypothesized that natural genetic variation would be most likely to occur in the inputs to GnRH neurons and/or in GnRH neurons themselves, but not in elements of the photoperiodic pathway that would have pleiotropic effects oil nonreproductive functions as well as oil reproductive functions. Significant genetic variation has been found in the GnRH neuronal system. The number of GnRH neurons immunoreactive to all antibody to mature GnRH peptide under conditions maximizing detection of stained neurons was significantly heritable in an unselected control (C) line. Furthermore, a selection line that suppresses reproduction in SD (photoperiod responsive, R) had fewer IR-GnRH neurons than a selection line that maintains reproduction in SD (photoperiod nonresponsive, NR). This supports the hypothesis that genetic variation in characteristics of GnRH neurons themselves may be responsible for the observed phenotypic variation in reproduction in SD. The R and NR lines differ genetically in food intake and iodo-melatonin receptor binding, as well as in other characteristics. The latter findings are consistent with the hypothesis that genetic variation occurs in the nutritional and hormonal inputs to GnRH neurons. Genetic variation also exists in the phenotypic plasticity of responses to two combinations of treatments, (1) food and photoperiod, and (2) photoperiod and age, indicating genetic variation in individual norms of reaction within this population. Overall, the apparent multiple sources of genetic variation within this population suggest that there may be multiple alternative combinations of alleles for both the R and NR phenotypes. If that interpretation is correct, we suggest that this offers some support for the evolutionary "potential" hypothesis and is inconsistent with the evolutionary "constraint" and "symmorphosis" hypotheses for the evolution of complex neuroendocrine pathways.
Heideman, P. D., & Pittman, J. T. (2009). Microevolution of neuroendocrine mechanisms regulating reproductive timing in Peromyscus leucopus. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 49(5), 550-562.