GnRH and estradiol are important regulators of GnRH receptors. When delivered to the anterior pituitary gland continuously, GnRH decreases numbers of GnRH receptors on gonadotropes. Treatment with estradiol consistently increases numbers of GnRH receptors. Because estradiol acts via intracellular receptors while GnRH exerts its effects through a membrane receptor, it is likely that these hormones influence GnRH receptor expression via different mechanisms. In this experiment, we tested two hypotheses: 1) continuous infusion of GnRH will decrease expression of the GnRH receptor gene; and 2) estradiol will override the negative effects of continuous infusion of GnRH on GnRH receptor expression. Ovariectomized ewes were administered either GnRH (10 μg/h, n = 10) or saline (n = 10) continuously for 136 h. At 124 h, 5 ewes in each group were administered estradiol (25 μg im) and anterior pituitary glands were collected 12 h later. Treatment with GnRH caused an abrupt increase in circulating concentrations of LH, and the maximal mean concentration was observed 4 h after the start of GnRH infusion. Following this increase, concentrations of LH in GnRH-treated ewes declined and were similar to those in saline-treated ewes from 8 h to 124 h. After injection of estradiol at 124 h, circulating concentrations of LH increased in both GnRH- and saline-treated ewes. However, this response occurred within 6 h in ewes treated with GnRH compared with 9 h in ewes treated with saline (P < 0.05). Compared with saline-treated controls, treatment with GnRH decreased mean steady-state amount of GnRH receptor messenger RNA (mRNA) (P < 0.01) and concentration of GnRH receptors (P < 0.05). Treatment with estradiol caused an increase in concentrations of GnRH receptor mRNA (P < 0.05) and GnRH receptors (P < 0.01). Amounts of GnRH receptor mRNA and numbers of GnRH receptors in ewes treated with both GnRH and estradiol were not different from those in the control group but were higher (P < 0.002) relative to ewes treated with GnRH alone. Treatment with GnRH and estradiol also influenced the expression of genes encoding the LHβ and FSHβ subunits. Compared with saline-treated controls, treatment with GnRH reduced steady- state amounts of mRNA encoding LHβ subunit (P < 0.005) and FSHβ subunit (P < 0.05). Treatment with estradiol caused a decrease in concentrations of FSHβ subunit mRNA (P < 0.01) but did not affect amounts of LHβ subunit mRNA. The combined treatment of GnRH and estradiol reduced concentrations of mRNA encoding LHβ subunit (P < 0.01) and FSHβ subunit (P < 0.005). From these data we conclude that 1) reduced numbers of GnRH receptors during continuous infusion of GnRH are mediated in part by decreased expression of the GnRH receptor gene; and 2) estradiol is able to override the negative effect of GnRH by stimulating an increase in GnRH receptor gene expression and GnRH receptor concentrations. Therefore, although the gonadotrope becomes refractory to GnRH during homologous desensitization, this desensitization does net affect the cell's ability to respond to estradiol.
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