Oestrogen and progesterone interactions in the control of gonadotrophin and prolactin secretion

J Steroid Biochem. 1988;30(1-6):169-78. doi: 10.1016/0022-4731(88)90090-8.


Oestrogen and progesterone have marked effects on the secretion of the gonadotrophins and prolactin. During most of the oestrous or menstrual cycle the secretion of gonadotrophin is maintained at a relatively low level by the negative feedback of oestrogen and progesterone on the hypothalamic-pituitary system. The spontaneous ovulatory surge of gonadotrophin is produced by a positive feedback cascade. The cascade is initiated by an increase in the plasma concentration of oestradiol-17 beta which triggers a surge of luteinizing hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) and an increase in pituitary responsiveness to LHRH. The facilitatory action of oestrogen on pituitary responsiveness is reinforced by progesterone and the priming effect of LHRH. How oestrogen and progesterone exert their effects is not clear but the facilitatory effects of oestrogen take about 24 h, and the stimulation of LHRH release is produced by an indirect effect of oestradiol on neurons which are possibly opioid, dopaminergic or noradrenergic and which modulate the activity of LHRH neurons. In the rat, a spontaneous prolactin surge occurs at the same time as the spontaneous ovulatory gonadotrophin surge. The prolactin surge also appears to involve a positive feedback between the brain-pituitary system and the ovary. However, the mechanism of the prolactin surge is poorly understood mainly because the neural control of prolactin release appears to be mediated by prolactin inhibiting as well as releasing factors, and the precise role of these factors has not been established. The control of prolactin release is further complicated by the fact that oestradiol stimulates prolactin synthesis and release by a direct action on the prolactotrophes. Prolactin and gonadotrophin surges also occur simultaneously in several experimental steroid models. A theoretical model is proposed which could explain how oestrogen and progesterone trigger the simultaneous surge of LH and prolactin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Estrus
  • Female
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • Models, Biological
  • Progesterone / physiology*
  • Prolactin / metabolism*


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Progesterone
  • Prolactin
  • Luteinizing Hormone