There is a temporal relationship between the secretory activity of the rat adrenal gland and the stage of the oestrous cycle. In previous studies, adrenal venous blood has been sampled, but because of the stress of a lengthy operation, the gland is subjected to maximum stimulation. A new surgical approach has been developed in which samples of adrenal venous blood are taken within 3 min of contact. A competitive binding radioassay was used to determine the level of corticosterone in samples of plasma of both adrenal venous and peripheral arterial origin obtained before (3 min) and after (15 min) the onset of (presumably) ACTH-induced secretion. A reassessment of adrenal function indicated that adrenal activity peaked in pro-oestrus with higher values in the afternoon than the morning and both values were significantly higher than at any other stage in the oestrous cycle. The variations in the concentration of corticosterone in adrenal venous plasma were reflected by a similar pattern of variation in the level of corticosterone in peripheral arterial plasma. In samples of adrenal venous plasma obtained at 15 min, the level of corticosterone was approximately 25 times higher than the basal value during pro-oestrus and approximately 140 times higher than the values during the other stages of the cycle; for peripheral arterial blood the values were eight and 22–30 times higher respectively, without any significant difference when samples of either type of blood were obtained under stress. This indicates maximum stimulation by endogenous ACTH.
Results obtained after treatment of ovariectomized rats with progesterone and/or oestradiol and the fact that LH, but not ACTH, plays a stimulatory role in the non-stressed metoestrous animal, suggest that the peak of adrenal activity at the time of pro-oestrus might be biphasic: in the morning it is influenced by a high level of oestrogen and a low level of progesterone; in the afternoon this balance is reversed. The effect is secondary to the surge of LH which may have a direct effect on the peak of adrenal activity at this critical period.