Scientists at Imperial College, London have trialled a potential new treatment for infertility in healthy female volunteers. Kisspeptin is a reproductive hormone discovered in the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania and named after the town's most famous export ('Hershey's Kisses' chocolates). Mutations in the receptor for Kisspeptin result in a failure to undergo puberty. In this trial scientists injected six healthy volunteers with the hormone directly. The researchers found that this led to an elevation of circulating levels of luteinising hormone (LH) - a hormone which can be used to stimulate the ovary in fertility treatment. Kisspeptin increased circulating LH at all stages of the menstrual cycle but the effect was most pronounced in the pre-ovulation phase.
Previous research linked the activation of KiSS-1 gene - which makes the kisspeptin protein - to the onset of puberty. This developmental stage begins when an area of the brain starts to release a hormone called GnRH, which in turn triggers the release of other hormones that affect the ovaries and testes. In 2003, two groups of researchers discovered that a gene called GPR54 is defective in people who never start puberty - a rare condition called idiopathic hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism (IHH). Two years later, scientists showed that puberty begins when the proteins produced by the GPR54 and KiSS-1 genes work together to switch on GnRH.
Lead researcher Dr Waljit Dhillo said 'Kisspeptin has previously been shown to potently stimulate hormone release in animals, but this is the first time that it has been shown to stimulate sex hormone release in women. We might now look at giving this hormone to women who have no periods, those with irregular cycles or who have a period but do not ovulate. One in nine couples are affected by infertility and this could be one of the treatments'. The work is being presented at the Society for Endocrinology conference spring meeting in Birmingham.