GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) mediates control of reproduction. It is secreted in pulses and acts via intracellular effectors to activate gene expression. Submaximal GnRH pulse frequency can elicit maximal responses, yielding bell-shaped frequency–response curves characteristic of genuine frequency decoders. GnRH frequency decoding is therapeutically important (pulsatile GnRH can drive ovulation in assisted reproduction, whereas sustained activation can treat breast and prostate cancers), but the mechanisms are unknown. In the present paper, we review recent work in this area, placing emphasis on the regulation of transcription, and showing how mathematical modelling of GnRH effects on two effectors [ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) and NFAT (nuclear factor of activated T-cells)] reveals the potential for genuine frequency decoding as an emergent feature of the GnRH signalling network, rather than an intrinsic feature of a given protein or pathway within it.

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