Female Reproductive Endocrinology

Hormonal interaction between the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, and ovaries regulates the female reproductive system. The hypothalamus secretes a small peptide, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), also known as luteinizing hormone releasing hormone. GnRH regulates release of the gonadotropins luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from specialized cells (gonadotropes) in the anterior pituitary gland. These hormones are released in short bursts every 1 to 4 hours. LH and FSH promote ovulation and stimulate secretion of the sex hormones estradiol and progesterone from the ovaries.

Estrogen and progesterone circulate in the bloodstream almost entirely bound to plasma proteins. Only unbound estrogen and progesterone appear to be biologically active. They stimulate the target organs of the reproductive system. They usually inhibit but, in certain situations may stimulate gonadotropin secretion. Central influences that regulate release of GnRH include neurotransmitters and peptide. Such factors may inhibit release of GnRH during childhood, and then initiate its release to induce puberty in early adolescence. Early in puberty, hypothalamic GnRH release becomes less sensitive to inhibition by estrogen and progesterone. The resulting increased release of GnRH promotes LH and FSH secretion, which stimulates production of sex hormones, primarily estrogen. Estrogen stimulates development of secondary sexual characteristics.

 

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