GnRH; gonadotropin-releasing hormone; luliberin; luteinising-hormone-releasing hormone; LHRH; luteinizing-hormone-releasing hormone
Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone is produced and secreted by specialised nerve cells in the hypothalamus of the brain. It is released into tiny blood vessels that carry this hormone from the brain to the pituitary gland, where it stimulates the production of two more hormones – follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone. These hormones are released into the general circulation and act on the testes and ovaries to initiate and maintain their reproductive functions. Follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone control the levels of hormones produced by the testes and ovaries (such as testosterone, oestradiol and progesterone), and are important in controlling the production of sperm in men and the maturation and release of an egg during each menstrual cycle in women.
During childhood, the levels of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone are extremely low, but as puberty approaches there is an increase in gonadotrophin-releasing hormone, which triggers the onset of sexual maturation. No one really knows why this occurs, but it probably involves many different factors.
When the ovaries and testes are fully functional, the production of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone, luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone are controlled by the levels of testosterone (in men) and oestrogens (e.g. oestradiol) and progesterone (in women). If the levels of these hormones rise, the production of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone decreases and vice versa.
There is one exception to this rule; in women, at the midpoint of their menstrual cycle, oestradiol (produced by the follicle in the ovary that contains the dominant egg) reaches a critical high point. This stimulates a large increase in gonadotrophin-releasing hormone secretion and, consequently, a surge of luteinising hormone, which stimulates the release of a mature egg. This process is called ovulation.
It is not known what the effects are of having too much gonadotrophin-releasing hormone. Extremely rarely, pituitary adenomas (tumours) can develop, which increase production of gonadotrophins leading to overproduction of testosterone or oestrogen.
A deficiency of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone in childhood means that the individual does not go through puberty. An example is a rare genetic syndrome known as Kallmann’s syndrome, which causes loss of the development of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone-producing nerve cells, with a consequent loss of pubertal development and sexual maturation. It is more common in men than women and leads to loss of development of the testes or ovaries and infertility.
Any trauma or damage to the hypothalamus can also cause a loss of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone secretion, which will stop the normal production of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone, causing loss of menstrual cycles (amenorrhoea) in women, loss of sperm production in men, and loss of production of hormones from the testes and ovaries.
Last reviewed: Mar 2015