To determine whether discernible alterations in neuroendocrine and/or ovarian function precede the loss of regular oestrous cycles in ageing female rats, the present study examined the pattern of gonadotrophin secretion near the time of ovulation and the pattern of ovarian steroid secretion in the early morning of prooestrus in middle-aged (10–12 months old) females displaying regular oestrous cycles and compared these with young (4 months old) animals. In addition, the subsequent reproductive patterns in these animals were observed and correlations between the changes in hormonal profiles and the decline in regular reproductive cyclicity were established. In middle-aged females which subsequently ceased to display regular oestrous cycles (middle-aged non-regular; M-NR) within 1–2 months, the pro-oestrous surge of LH was significantly reduced in magnitude. There was no difference in the LH surge between young females and middle-aged animals which maintained regular oestrous cycles (middle-aged regular; M-R) for at least 2 months. There also was no difference in the magnitude of the pro-oestrous FSH surge or in the secondary rise in FSH in the early morning of oestrus among young, M-R and M-NR females. In a separate group of middle-aged females which subsequently became M-NR, serum concentrations of both oestradiol and testosterone in the early morning of pro-oestrus were markedly raised over those in the young and M-R groups. We suggest that an earlier rise in circulating oestradiol and testosterone concentrations in middle-aged females over many consecutive regular oestrous cycles may gradually render the central nervous system less responsive to the stimulatory feedback effects of ovarian steroids on LH release. As a consequence, the pattern of the pro-oestrous LH surge may be progressively altered in ageing rats until it is inadequate for regular ovulatory function.
J. Endocr. (1984) 100, 43–50