Does melatonin alter pituitary responsiveness to gonadotropin-releasing hormone in the ewe?

Neuroendocrinology. 1986;43(6):635-40. doi: 10.1159/000124593.


The diurnal secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland transduces information about day length to the reproductive axis of many seasonal breeders including the ewe. In the sheep the target for melatonin is thought to be neural, such that the hormone acts through the GnRH pulse generator to produce seasonal alterations in the frequency of pulsatile LH secretion. These effects on the pulse generation mechanism take approximately 50 days to become evident. It is possible that melatonin also exerts direct effects at the level of the pituitary gland to alter responsiveness to GnRH. Such effects have been noted in other species. The site of action of melatonin to regulate pulsatile LH secretion was assessed in the ewe by determining whether the animal's endogenous melatonin acutely modifies pituitary responsiveness to sustained pulsatile administration of GnRH. Using an animal model in which endogenous GnRH was blocked, pituitary responsiveness to hourly pulses of exogenous GnRH was assessed under conditions of both high (dark period) and low (light period) melatonin. No evidence for acute effects of melatonin on pituitary response to GnRH was found. In another experiment, the amplitude and frequency of endogenously generated LH pulses in ovariectomized ewes was found not to change during the 24-hour light/dark cycle. These data lead to the conclusion that melatonin does not act at the pituitary gland to produce acute effects on LH secretion. Rather, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the action of melatonin, in this short-day breeder is long term, and is directed towards the neural elements of the hypothalamic pulse-generating mechanism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / administration & dosage
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / pharmacology*
  • Kinetics
  • Luteinizing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Melatonin / blood
  • Melatonin / pharmacology*
  • Ovariectomy
  • Pituitary Gland / drug effects
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism*
  • Sheep


  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Melatonin