Cortisol reduces gonadotropin-releasing hormone pulse frequency in follicular phase ewes: influence of ovarian steroids

Endocrinology. 2009 Jan;150(1):341-9. doi: 10.1210/en.2008-0587. Epub 2008 Sep 18.


Stress-like elevations in plasma glucocorticoids suppress gonadotropin secretion and can disrupt ovarian cyclicity. In sheep, cortisol acts at the pituitary to reduce responsiveness to GnRH but does not affect GnRH pulse frequency in the absence of ovarian hormones. However, in ewes during the follicular phase of the estrous cycle, cortisol reduces LH pulse frequency. To test the hypothesis that cortisol reduces GnRH pulse frequency in the presence of ovarian steroids, the effect of cortisol on GnRH secretion was monitored directly in pituitary portal blood of follicular phase sheep in the presence and absence of a cortisol treatment that elevated plasma cortisol to a level observed during stress. An acute (6 h) cortisol increase in the midfollicular phase did not lower GnRH pulse frequency. However, a more prolonged (27 h) increase in cortisol beginning just before the decrease in progesterone reduced GnRH pulse frequency by 45% and delayed the preovulatory LH surge by 10 h. To determine whether the gonadal steroid milieu of the follicular phase enables cortisol to reduce GnRH pulse frequency, GnRH was monitored in ovariectomized ewes treated with estradiol and progesterone to create an artificial follicular phase. A sustained increment in plasma cortisol reduced GnRH pulse frequency by 70% in this artificial follicular phase, in contrast to the lack of an effect in untreated ovariectomized ewes as seen previously. Thus, a sustained stress-like level of cortisol suppresses GnRH pulse frequency in follicular phase ewes, and this appears to be dependent upon the presence of ovarian steroids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Follicular Phase / drug effects
  • Follicular Phase / physiology*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / pharmacology
  • Homeostasis
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology*
  • Kinetics
  • Luteinizing Hormone / pharmacology
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Sheep


  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone