Role of estradiol in cortisol-induced reduction of luteinizing hormone pulse frequency

Amy E Oakley, Kellie M Breen, Alan John Tilbrook, Elizabeth R Wagenmaker, Fred J Karsch

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Precise control of pulsatile GnRH and LH release is imperative to ovarian cyclicity but is vulnerable to environmental perturbations, like stress. In sheep, a sustained (29 h) increase in plasma cortisol to a level observed during stress profoundly reduces GnRH pulse frequency in ovariectomized ewes treated with ovarian steroids, whereas shorter infusion (6 h) is ineffective in the absence of ovarian hormones. This study first determined if the ovarian steroid milieu or duration of exposure is the relevant factor in determining if cortisol reduces LH pulse frequency. Prolonged (29 h) cortisol infusion did not lower LH pulse frequency in ovariectomized ewes deprived of ovarian hormones, but it did so in ovariectomized ewes treated with estradiol and progesterone to create an artificial estrous cycle, implicating ovarian steroids as the critical factor. Importantly, this effect of cortisol was more pronounced after the simulated preovulatory estradiol rise of the artificial follicular phase. The second experiment examined which component of the ovarian steroid milieu enables cortisol to reduce LH pulse frequency in the artificial follicular phase: prior exposure to progesterone in the luteal phase, low early follicular phase estradiol levels, or the preovulatory estradiol rise. Basal estradiol enabled cortisol to decrease LH pulse frequency, but the response was potentiated by the estradiol rise. These findings lead to the conclusion that ovarian steroids, particularly estradiol, enable cortisol to inhibit LH pulse frequency. Moreover, the results provide new insight into the means by which gonadal steroids, and possibly reproductive status, modulate neuroendocrine responses to stress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2775 - 2782
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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