In ovarian-intact lactating rats, removal of the suckling stimulus leads to restoration of pituitary LH β mRNA levels and pulsatile LH secretion after 72 h, which correlates with a sharp decrease in plasma progesterone concentrations to basal levels. In contrast, in ovariectomized lactating rats, the increase in pituitary LH function is observed by 24 h after pup removal. To determine if progesterone secretion from the ovary participates in the delayed recovery of LH secretion, we treated lactating rats with the progesterone antagonist RU 486 and determined the effects on the time course of recovery of pulsatile LH secretion and LH subunit mRNA after pup removal and on pituitary responsiveness to GnRH.In ovarian-intact lactating rats treated with RU 486, pulsatile LH secretion was observed in about 40% of the rats within 24 h after pup removal (LH interpulse interval, 43.7 ± 8.3 min) and in about 90% of the rats within 48 h after pup removal (LH interpulse interval, 46.1 ± 3.6 min). the mean plasma LH level in the RU 486-treated rats was 10.1 ± 2.2 ng/ml 24 h after removal of pups (control, <5 ng/ml) and had increased to 35.1 ± 6.4 ng/ml 48 h after pup removal (control, 9.1 ± 2.5 ng/ml). However, RU 486 treatment had no significant effect on LH mRNA subunit levels. To determine whether progesterone acts at the pituitary to block GnRH stimulation of LH secretion, we tested the effects of RU 486 on LH secretion in response to 2- and 5-ng pulses of GnRH. Pituitary responsiveness was tested 24 h after pup removal. We found that both doses of GnRH were effective in stimulating pulsatile LH secretion, and treatment with RU 486 had no significant effect on this response.We conclude from these studies that progesterone secretion from the ovary contributes to the inhibition of LH secretion that occurs after pup removal, since antagonizing progesterone's action resulted in an earlier restoration of pulsatile LH secretion. The. increase in LH secretion occurred in the absence of any significant changes in responsiveness of the pituitary to GnRH stimulation or in LH subunit mRNA levels. Therefore, the primary site of action of progesterone would appear to be at the hypothalamus to suppress pulsatile GnRH secretion.
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