The molecular pathways that promote the proliferation and maintenance of pituitary somatotrophs and other cell types of the anterior pituitary gland are not well understood at present. However, such knowledge is likely to lead to the development of novel drugs useful for the treatment of various human growth disorders. Although muscarinic cholinergic pathways have been implicated in regulating somatotroph function, the physiological relevance of this effect and the localization and nature of the receptor subtypes involved in this activity remain unclear. We report the surprising observation that mutant mice that selectively lack the M3 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor subtype in the brain (neurons and glial cells; Br-M3-KO mice) showed a dwarf phenotype associated with a pronounced hypoplasia of the anterior pituitary gland and a marked decrease in pituitary and serum growth hormone (GH) and prolactin. Remarkably, treatment of Br-M3-KO mice with CJC-1295, a synthetic GH-releasing hormone (GHRH) analog, rescued the growth deficit displayed by Br-M3-KO mice by restoring normal pituitary size and normal serum GH and IGF-1 levels. These findings, together with results from M3 receptor/GHRH colocalization studies and hypothalamic hormone measurements, support a model in which central (hypothalamic) M3 receptors are required for the proper function of hypothalamic GHRH neurons. Our data reveal an unexpected and critical role for central M3 receptors in regulating longitudinal growth by promoting the proliferation of pituitary somatotroph cells
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