As circulating estrogen levels rise on the afternoon of proestrus, they stimulate the hypothalamo-pituitary axis. This estrogen positive feedback is pivotal to stimulate the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge required for ovulation and luteinization of ovarian follicles. In addition to estrogen, pre-LH surge progesterone is critical for an LH surge as was demonstrated by blocking progesterone synthesis. In ovariectomized (OVX) rats treated with trilostane, a blocker of the enzyme 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) that catalyzes the conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone, estrogen did not induce an LH surge. Further, estrogen induced an LH surge in OVX and adrenalectomized (ADX) rats, indicating that the source of progesterone was neither the ovary nor adrenal gland. This estrogen-only LH surge was inhibited by pretreatment with trilostane, indicating that although the adrenal gland and ovary were not necessary for positive feedback, progesterone synthesis was critical for estrogen-induced positive feedback in an OVX/ADX rat. This suggested that the LH surge is dependent on the pre-LH surge synthesis of progesterone. Estrogen-induced progesterone receptors in the hypothalamus are vital for the LH surge, so a potential location for progesterone synthesis is the hypothalamus. OVX/ADX female rats were treated with 17β-estradiol (50 µg) and progesterone levels were assayed by RIA. Progesterone levels were elevated in hypothalamic tissue following estrogen treatment. No increases in tissue progesterone levels were found in parietal cortex, cerebellum, medulla, pituitary or plasma. Additionally, male rats that do not have an estrogen positive feedback-induced LH surge were examined. Castrated/ADX male rats had no increase in hypothalamic progesterone levels after estrogen treatment. Together, these data strongly suggest that estrogen enhances neuro progesterone synthesis in the hypothalamus that is involved in the positive feedback regulating the LH surge.

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