The ontogeny of gonadotropin releasing hormone pulse generator activity underlying pubertal development in the human male is incompletely defined because of the limitations of assay sensitivity in measurements and the inaccuracies attendant upon the analyses of pulsatile secretion of circulating gonadotropins. Using an ultrasensitive immunofluorometric assay (DELFIA) to measure plasma LH and deconvolution analysis to depict LH secretory characteristics, we compared nocturnal (2000-0800 h) pulsatile LH secretion cross-sectionally in 16 boys in midchildhood (mean +/- SD age 6.6 +/- 0.3 yr), 8 prepubertal boys (12.0 +/- 0.3 yr), 8 early pubertal boys (14.3 +/- 0.4 yr), and in 8 young fertile adult men (32.6 +/- 1.6 yr) as an indirect in vivo assessment of hypothalamic GnRH pulse generator activity over the entire span of pubertal development in the human male. We confirmed that sleep-entrained GnRH/LH burst secretory activity was present in midchildhood. The first increase in sleep-entrained GnRH/LH secretion occurred some 2 yr before the clinical onset of puberty. From midchildhood to sexual maturity, LH production rate increased 39-fold. However, GnRH/LH pulse frequency showed only a relatively small (1.8-fold) increment from midchildhood to the clinical onset of puberty, with no subsequent changes to continuing development towards adulthood. Thus 91.7% of the increment in LH plasma concentration from childhood to sexual maturity could be accounted for by an amplification of a pre-existing ultradian rhythm of secretion with a steadily and markedly increasing mass of LH secreted per burst. The duration of secretory burst and apparent half-life of plasma LH disappearance remained constant from midchildhood, through puberty, to adulthood. The nyctohemeral rhythm-and sleep-associated LH/GnRH secretion was eventually lost in young adulthood. We conclude that the onset of puberty in man is heralded by the reawakening of a partially quiescent GnRH pulse generator. This predominantly involves an amplification of a pre-existing pattern of hypothalamic GnRH secretion leading to a major augmentation of the total quantity of LH molecules released per burst. The almost two-fold increment in GnRH pulse frequency contributed synergistically to the pubertal process, before the clinical onset of puberty, possibly by enhancing gonadotropic sensitivity to increase the mass of LH produced per burst. The relative constancy of GnRH pulse frequency in the gonad-intact hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis from pubertal onset to adulthood implies that testicular steroidal feedback plays a role in restraining the burst frequency of the GnRH pulse generator during pubertal development and adulthood.