Modulation of reproductive hormone secretion by nutritional intake: Stress signals versus metabolic signals

Judy L. Cameron, Dana L. Helmreich, Derek A. Schreihofer

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58 Scopus citations


States of chronic undernutrition can cause a profound suppression of reproductive function. To begin to determine the time course and the nature of the mechanism by which undernutrition suppresses the activity of the reproductive axis we have examined the effects of brief periods of fasting on reproductive hormone secretion in men and male rhesus monkeys. In monkeys there is a significant suppression of pulsatile luteinizing hormone (LH) and testosterone secretion after a single day of fasting, that is apparent within the first 4 h after a meal is missed. The suppression of pulsatile LH secretion on a day of fasting does not appear to be caused by the psychological stress experienced when monkeys are deprived of their daily meal in that monkeys who are maintained in a metabolically fed state (by feeding a large excess of food on the day prior to fasting), but are deprived of a meal and displayed behavioural agitation associated with fasting, have no suppression of LH secretion. The suppression of LH secretion on a day of fasting cannot be reversed by naloxone infusion, indicating that increased secretion of opioid peptides is not the primary mechanism causing the decrease in the central drive to the reproductive axis during fasting. In addition, although there is a mild activation of the adrenal axis, with slight rises in plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol concentrations on a day of fasting, the increased activity of the adrenal axis does not appear to cause the fasting-induced suppression of LH secretion, since there is no correlation between the magnitude of the rise in cortisol secretion and the degree of suppression of LH secretion during fasting, and dexamethasone injections, which inhibit the central drive to the adrenal axis, fail to prevent fastinginduced suppression of LH secretion. Cumulatively these findings argue against the hypothesis that a general stress response to fasting causes the fasting-induced suppression of reproductive axis activity. Alternatively, it seems more likely that signals specifically occurring as a result of changes in the metabolic state of the body may be causing the suppression of reproductive hormone secretion that occurs during the early stages of fasting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-167
Number of pages6
JournalHuman Reproduction
StatePublished - Nov 1993


  • Cortisol
  • Luteinizing hormone
  • Opiate peptides
  • Rhesusmonkey
  • Undernutrition


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