To test the hypothesis that the functional state of hypothalamic LHRH neurons and pituitary gonadotrophs might alter their radiosensitivity, we determined the experimental conditions under which the gonadotropin response to castration could be impaired by a single dose of cranial irradiation. Single doses of cranial irradiation greater than 2000 rads were lethal to unshielded rats. Shielding of the oropharynx and esophagus allowed the animals to survive doses up to 5000 rads. Doses between 2000 and 5000 rads had no effect on basal gonadotropin levels for as long as 3 months after irradiation. Irradiation caused a dose- and time-dependent impairment, however, in the gonadotropin response to castration. Impairment of the gonadotropin levels of castrate animals occurred in animals that were irradiated either before or after castration. However, rats irradiated in the castrate state showed a decreased susceptibility to irradiation damage. Additionally, stimulation of the pituitary by LHRH agonist (LHRHa) 3 h before irradiation significantly reduced the impairment of gonadotropin secretion 12–20 weeks after irradiation (P < 0.05). Thus, increased functional activity of the rat hypothalamus or pituitary at the time of irradiation, induced by either castration or acute LHRHa administration, was associated with some protection against the gonadotropinlowering effect of irradiation. Based upon these data, we hypothesize that stimulation of gonadotropin secretion at the time of therapeutic cranial irradiation in humans might protect against subsequent impairment of gonadotropin secretion.
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