The Response of the Pituitary-Ovarian Axis to Pulsatile Administration of Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone in Long-Term Oral Contraceptive Users

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Our purpose was to differentiate between pituitary and hypothalamic feedback effects of oral contraceptives.


Twenty micrograms of gonadotropin-releasing hormone was administered intravenously at 90-minute intervals for 4 days to 14 long-term users of a combined oral contraceptive (30 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol and 150 micrograms of levonorgestrel), starting at different moments in the pill cycle. On the fourth day of administration the pulsatile release of luteinizing hormone was determined by blood sampling every 10 minutes for 6 hours. The sensitivity of the pituitary was determined before, during, and after treatment with gonadotropin-releasing hormone by a 100 micrograms gonadotropin-releasing hormone challenge test. On each sampling day serum estradiol, progesterone, and prolactin levels were measured, and ovarian ultrasonography was performed.


After 4 days of pulsatile gonadotropin-releasing hormone administration every exogenous gonadotropin-releasing hormone bolus was followed by an endogenous luteinizing hormone pulse of high amplitude (median 3.30 U/L). Both serum luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels increased significantly (p < 0.001). The increase in follicle-stimulating hormone levels was accompanied by an increase in serum estradiol (p < 0.01). The luteinizing hormone response to a 100 micrograms bolus of gonadotropin-releasing hormone decreased during gonadotropin-releasing hormone treatment (p < 0.01), whereas the follicle-stimulating hormone response did not change.


Pituitary sensitivity is not impaired during oral contraceptive use, suggesting that oral contraceptives exert their negative feedback effects predominantly at the hypothalamic level. (AM J OBSTET GYNECOL 1994;170:462-8.)

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