The effects on sexual maturation of the opioid receptor antagonists naloxone and naltrexone were studied in the female rat. Neonatal treatment (days 1–10) with either naloxone (2·5 mg/kg at 6-h intervals) or naltrexone (20 or 50 mg/kg per day) did not advance sexual maturation as judged by age and body weight at vaginal opening and first ovulation. After treatment with naltrexone (20 mg/kg) first ovulation occurred 2·3 days earlier than in saline-treated control rats but this could be attributed to a growth-stimulating effect of naltrexone; the effect was not observed with 50 mg/kg. An effect of neonatal treatment with naloxone on serum LH levels was seen at 23 days of age (155±36 (s.e.m.) vs 14±4 μg LH/1 in controls, P<0·01), but not at 29 or 33 days of age, at 2 days before first ovulation nor at first pro-oestrus. There were no differences in the number of ova released at first oestrus, nor in the length of the first cycle. Neonatal treatment with naltrexone (50 mg/kg per day) did not alter the response to treatment with human chorionic gonadotrophin at 28–31 days of age: ovulation of a mean of 7·3 ova was induced on day 32 in both naltrexone- and saline-treated rats. Naltrexone treatment (four daily injections of 20 mg/kg at 2-h intervals) at 28–32 days of age advanced first ovulation by 4·4 days in about 40% of the rats.
Short-term effects of naloxone and naltrexone treatment on LH secretion were studied in 15-day-old rats and a clear increase in serum LH concentration was seen 15 min after injection; LH levels were similar with the various doses of antagonist used (2·5 and 20 mg naloxone/kg; 2·5, 20 and 50 mg naltrexone/kg). At 30 min after injection LH levels were still maximal if the 2·5 mg/kg dose of either antagonist was used, whereas with the higher doses a significant (P<0·01) decrease in the level of LH was observed, indicating a longer-lasting effect of the lower (2·5 mg/kg) dose of antagonist on LH secretion. No differences in effectiveness were seen between the supposedly short-lasting opioid receptor antagonist naloxone and the supposedly long-lasting antagonist naltrexone.
It was concluded that neonatal treatment with the opioid antagonists naloxone and naltrexone did not specifically influence sexual maturation. The antagonists clearly increased LH secretion in short-term experiments. Treatment with naltrexone at 28–32 days of age advanced first ovulation in 40% of the rats, a result that is in agreement with a possible opiatergic influence on the gradually increasing LH release during the final phase of sexual maturation.
The effects of the opioid antagonist naltrexone on the LH release mechanism did not parallel its reported long-lasting effects on nociceptive response, no long-lasting increase of LH release was seen, and the timecourse of the LH response was the same using the antagonists naloxone and naltrexone.
J. Endocr. (1988) 117, 237–243