Résumé : Sex differences in gonadal function are driven by either cyclical (females) or tonic (males) hypothalamic GnRH1 release and, subsequently, gonadotrophin (LH and FSH) secretion from the pituitary. This sex difference seems to depend on the perinatal actions of gonadal hormones on the hypothalamus. We used alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) knockout mice (Afp(-/-)) to study the mechanisms by which estrogens affect the sexual differentiation of the GnRH1 system. Afp(-/-) mice lack the protective actions of AFP against estrogens circulating during embryonic development, leading to infertility probably due to a hypothalamic dysfunction. Therefore, we first determined whether Afp(-/-) females are capable of showing a steroid-induced preovulatory LH surge by FOS/GnRH1 immunohistochemistry and RIA of plasma LH levels. Because the KISS1/GPR54 system is a key upstream regulator of the GnRH1 system as well as being sexually dimorphic, we also analyzed whether Kisspeptin-10 neurons were activated in Afp(-/-) mice after treatment with estradiol and progesterone. We found that the GnRH1 and Kisspeptin-10 neuronal systems are defeminized in Afp(-/-) females because they did not show either steroid-induced LH surges or significant FOS/GnRH1 double labeling. Furthermore, Kisspeptin-10 immunoreactivity and neural activation, measured by the number of double-labeled FOS/Kisspeptin-10 cells, were lower in Afp(-/-) females, suggesting a down-regulation of GnRH1 function. Thus, the sex difference in the ability to show preovulatory LH surges depends on the prenatal actions of estrogens in the male hypothalamus and, thus, is lost in Afp(-/-) females because they lack AFP to protect them against the defeminizing effects of estrogens during prenatal development.