The human KAL gene is responsible for the X chromosome-linked Kallmann's syndrome, which consists of an association between hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and anosmia (or hyposmia). Additional symptoms are occasionally observed. The olfactory defect is associated with hypoplasia of the olfactory bulbs and tracts. The hypogonadism may be due to a defect in the embryonic migratory process of GnRH-synthesizing neurones from the olfactory pits up to the brain. The human and chicken KAL genes have been isolated. From the amino acid sequences deduced, it has been postulated that the KAL protein is an extracellular matrix component, with putative antiprotease activity and adhesion function. Various point mutations and, in a few cases, deletions of KAL have been detected in patients. By in situ hybridization, KAL expression has been studied during embryonic development in the chick. From embryonic day 2 (ED2) to ED8, the KAL gene is expressed in various endodermal, mesodermal and ectodermal derivatives, whereas the expression from ED8 is almost entirely restricted to definite neuronal populations in the central nervous system, most of which still express the gene after hatching. According to such a spatiotemporal pattern of expression, we suggest that the KAL gene is involved both in morphogenetic events and in late neuronal differentiation and/or neuronal trophicity. With respect to the olfactory system, the KAL gene is expressed in the mitral cells of the olfactory bulbs from ED8 onwards. In contrast, no expression of the KAL gene is detected at any stage in either the embryonic olfactory epithelium or the surrounding nasal mesenchyme. Therefore, assuming that similar conditions are found in the human embryo, we suggest that the olfactory anomaly in Xlinked Kallmann's syndrome results from a central target cell defect. Current hypotheses regarding the pathophysiology of the GnRH deficiency are also discussed. In situ hybridization experiments in the human embryo, as well as characterization of the KAL protein, are in progress. © 1995 Baillière Tindall.
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