A. General Comments

The endocrine physiology of the female and the interplay of the many hormones associated with female sex determination, conception, fetal development, birth, growth, puberty, the reproductive years (lactation), and finally menopause beautifully illustrate the complexity and responsivity of this highly differentiated endocrine system. Its integrated operation is dependent upon the interaction of signals—both hormonal and neural—between the central nervous system (CNS), the pituitary, and the ovaries.

The hormones that are responsible for the development and maintenance of the female phenotype comprise the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the gonadotropins, luteinizing hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), both produced by the anterior pituitary, and the female steroid hormones, the estrogens and progestins.

The gonadotropin-releasing hormone and the gonadotropins are not believed to have any direct actions on bodily functions except through their specific actions on the pituitary and ovaries. In contrast to this limited sphere of action, the female steroid hormones have a wide range of actions in many tissues. Finally, specialized hormones such as relaxin, placental lactogen, and human chorionic gonadotropin are utilized at certain key intervals to achieve essential endocrinological responses.

This chapter will discuss the biology and biochemistry of the estrogens and progestins in the nonpregnant female; the concepts of this chapter should be com




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