The neurobiology of preovulatory and estradiol-induced gonadotropin-releasing hormone surges

Endocr Rev. 2010 Aug;31(4):544-77. doi: 10.1210/er.2009-0023. Epub 2010 Mar 17.


Ovarian steroids normally exert homeostatic negative feedback on GnRH release. During sustained exposure to elevated estradiol in the late follicular phase of the reproductive cycle, however, the feedback action of estradiol switches to positive, inducing a surge of GnRH release from the brain, which signals the pituitary LH surge that triggers ovulation. In rodents, this switch appears dependent on a circadian signal that times the surge to a specific time of day (e.g., late afternoon in nocturnal species). Although the precise nature of this daily signal and the mechanism of the switch from negative to positive feedback have remained elusive, work in the past decade has provided much insight into the role of circadian/diurnal and estradiol-dependent signals in GnRH/LH surge regulation and timing. Here we review the current knowledge of the neurobiology of the GnRH surge, in particular the actions of estradiol on GnRH neurons and their synaptic afferents, the regulation of GnRH neurons by fast synaptic transmission mediated by the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate, and the host of excitatory and inhibitory neuromodulators including kisspeptin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, catecholamines, neurokinin B, and RFamide-related peptides, that appear essential for GnRH surge regulation, and ultimately ovulation and fertility.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / drug effects
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Catecholamines / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estradiol / physiology*
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Follicular Phase / physiology*
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Pituitary Gland / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • Catecholamines
  • Neuropeptides
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Estradiol
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Luteinizing Hormone