The social environment changes circulating hormone levels and associated behavior in animals. Although social information is perceived by sensory systems in the brain, and peripheral reproductive hormonal levels are regulated mainly by the hypothalamus–pituitary–gonadal (HPG) axis, the neurochemical systems that convey social information to the HPG axis were not well-understood until the 2000s. In recent years, a growing body of evidence has demonstrated that a neuropeptide localized in the hypothalamus, gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH), is responsive to social information. GnIH was first identified in the quail hypothalamo-hypophyseal system and named for its ability to inhibit gonadotropin secretion. Hypothalamic GnIH neurons have thus begun to be regarded as integrators, translating social information into changes in the levels of circulating gonadal hormones through the HPG axis. Here, we review current research investigating the responses of the GnIH neuronal systems to social status, offspring, and the presence/absence of conspecifics, and describe the neurochemical pathways linking visual perception of a potential mate to a rapid change in blood gonadotropin levels via the hypothalamus–pituitary axis in male birds.
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