Endocrine basis for disruptive effects of cortisol on preovulatory events

Endocrinology. 2005 Apr;146(4):2107-15. doi: 10.1210/en.2004-1457. Epub 2004 Dec 29.


Stress activates the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis leading to enhanced glucocorticoid secretion and concurrently inhibits gonadotropin secretion and disrupts ovarian cyclicity. Here we tested the hypothesis that stress-like concentrations of cortisol interfere with follicular phase endocrine events of the ewe by suppressing pulsatile LH secretion, which is essential for subsequent steps in the preovulatory sequence. Cortisol was infused during the early to midfollicular phase, elevating plasma cortisol concentrations to one third, one half, or the maximal value induced by isolation, a commonly used model of psychosocial stress. All cortisol treatments compromised at least some aspect of reproductive hormone secretion in follicular phase ewes. First, cortisol significantly suppressed LH pulse frequency by as much as 35%, thus attenuating the high frequency LH pulses typical of the preovulatory period. Second, cortisol interfered with timely generation of the follicular phase estradiol rise, either preventing it or delaying the estradiol peak by as much as 20 h. Third, cortisol delayed or blocked the preovulatory LH and FSH surges. Collectively, our findings support the hypothesis that stress-like increments in plasma cortisol interfere with the follicular phase by suppressing the development of high frequency LH pulses, which compromises timely expression of the preovulatory estradiol rise and LH and FSH surges. Moreover, the suppression of LH pulse frequency provides indirect evidence that cortisol acts centrally to suppress pulsatile GnRH secretion in follicular-phase ewes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / metabolism
  • Follicular Phase / blood*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology*
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Sheep


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone