Experiments were performed to test the hypothesis that there is a negative feedback 'clamp' of ovarian hormones on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland during the follicular phase of the oestrous cycle that limits the secretion of GnRH and LH. GnRH secretion was monitored by sampling the hypophysial portal blood of ewes during the luteal phase of the oestrous cycle and either 24 h or 48 h after the induction of luteolysis by the injection of cloprostenol, a prostaglandin analogue. There was an increase in GnRH pulse frequency in the transition from the luteal to the follicular phase of the cycle. A reduction in the amplitude of GnRH pulses did not occur until 48 h after cloprostenol, suggestive of negative feedback at the level of the hypothalamus that is more profound in the latter part of the follicular phase. The responsivity of the pituitary gland to GnRH was monitored in ewes during the luteal phase of the oestrous cycle and 24 h or 48 h after cloprostenol. Injections of 250 ng or 1000 ng GnRH were given (i.v.) to ewes that had been anaesthetised to suppress endogenous secretion of GnRH and LH. Using the lower dose, the responses 48 h after cloprostenol were not significantly different from those in the luteal phase. With the higher dose of GnRH, a significant (P<0.05) increase in mean responsivity was seen 48 h after cloprostenol. There was, however, a marked variation in response, with some ewes showing profound increases in LH secretion in response to GnRH and others showing responses that were similar to those obtained during the luteal phase of the cycle. These data are interpreted to mean that the secretion of LH is 'clamped' during the follicular phase of the oestrous cycle and the 'clamp' is only released near the time of the preovulatory LH surge. To test whether or not a rise in GnRH input to the pituitary gland could over-ride the 'clamp' on the pituitary secretion of LH in the late follicular phase of the cycle, sheep were treated 40 h after cloprostenol with either a bolus injection of 500 ng GnRH or four pulses of 125 ng GnRH given at 10-min intervals. These treatments caused small elevations in LH secretion but did not always cause preovulatory LH surges. In some cases, a small rise in LH secretion was induced by GnRH treatments and levels of LH in plasma returned to baseline with the preovulatory LH surge occurring a few hours later. In one clear case, a bolus injection of GnRH induced an LH surge. The overall data from the GnRH-treated groups, however, indicated a significant delay in the onset of the LH surge which may have been due to perturbation of the subcellular mechanisms in the gonadotrophs. These data were interpreted to mean that the secretion of LH from the pituitary gland is inhibited up to very soon before the onset of the LH surge. The inhibitory factor could be oestrogen but could also be some other pituitary feedback hormone such as gonadotrophin surge-attenuating factor. It is concluded that the increase in the secretion of GnRH at the time of the onset of the LH surge is closely linked to an increase in the responsivity of the gonadotrophs to GnRH. The latter is not caused by the increase in the secretion of GnRH.