We studied the secretion of physiological pools of immunoreactive and biologically active luteinizing hormone in response to endogenous pulses of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GNRH) in eugonadal men. Concentrations of immunoactive and bioactive luteinizing hormone (LH) were determined in blood drawn at 20-min intervals for 8 h in eight normal men under two conditions: (a) after placebo, in order to evaluate spontaneous LH pulsations in the basal state, and (b) after administration of the opiate-receptor antagonist, naltrexone, which is believed to amplify the pulsatile release of endogenous GNRH. Spontaneous and naltrexone-stimulated secretion of LH occurred in pulses of high biological activity, as measured in the RICT (rat interstitial cell testosterone bioassay), i.e., bioactive:immunoactive LH ratios within both spontaneous and naltrexone-stimulated LH pulses were higher than corresponding interpulse ratios (P < 0.001). Quantitative characterization of the pulsatile release of bioactive LH revealed the following specific effects of opiate-receptor blockade: increased 8-h mean and integrated serum concentrations of bioactive LH (P < 0.002), enhanced pulse frequency of bioactive LH release (P < 0.001), and augmented peak amplitude of bio-LH pulses (P < 0.01). Moreover, this increase in episodic secretion of bioactive LH was associated with increased 8-h mean and integrated serum testosterone concentrations in these men (P < 0.05). We conclude the following: (a) LH is normally released in spontaneous pulses of high biological activity in men; (b) when the endogenous GNRH signal is amplified by opiate-receptor blockade, the pituitary gland releases more frequent bioactive LH pulses, which are of high amplitude and contain a high bioactive:immunoactive LH ratio. This increase in pulsatile release of bioactive LH quantitated in the RICT assay in vitro is reflected by acutely increased serum testosterone concentrations in vivo. We infer that modulation of the episodic GNRH signal by endogenous opiates provides another significant mechanism by which the hypothalamus can alter the biological activity of circulating gonadotropic hormone in man. Moreover, observed alterations in the pulsatile pattern of bioactive LH release were associated in turn with significant changes in testosterone concentrations. Thus, we hypothesize that alterations in the properties of the bioactive LH pulse signal can provide an important mechanism for regulating target-cell function within the gonad in states of health or disease.
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