Two experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that cortisol interferes with the positive feedback action of estradiol that induces the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. Ovariectomized sheep were treated sequentially with progesterone and estradiol to create artificial estrous cycles. Cortisol or vehicle (saline) was infused from 2 h before the estradiol stimulus through the time of the anticipated LH surge in the artificial follicular phase of two successive cycles. The plasma cortisol increment produced by infusion was ∼1.5 times greater than maximal concentrations seen during infusion of endotoxin, which is a model of immune/inflammatory stress. In experiment 1, half of the ewes received vehicle in the first cycle and cortisol in the second; the others were treated in reverse order. All ewes responded with an LH surge. Cortisol delayed the LH surge and reduced its amplitude, but both effects were observed only in the second cycle. Experiment 2 was modified to provide better control for a cycle effect. Four treatment sequences were tested (cycle 1-cycle 2): vehicle-vehicle, cortisol-cortisol, vehicle-cortisol, cortisol-vehicle. Again, cortisol delayed but did not block the LH surge, and this delay occurred in both cycles. Thus, an elevation in plasma cortisol can interfere with the positive feedback action of estradiol by delaying and attenuating the LH surge.
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Vol. 80 • No. 3