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Hum Reprod. 1995 Sep;10(9):2262-5.

The empty follicle syndrome: a pharmaceutical industry syndrome.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Clínica Las Condes, Santiago, Chile.


The purpose of this study is to provide evidence that empty follicle syndrome (EFS) is a result of an abnormality in the in-vivo biological activity of some batches of commercially available human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG). This is a comparative study between six consecutive in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cases with EFS (study group) and 10 IVF pregnancy cycles (control group). Both groups received the same ovarian stimulation protocol consisting of leuprolide acetate and human menopausal gonadotrophin (HMG). An i.m. injection of 10,000 IU of HCG was administered once follicles had reached 18-20 mm and oestradiol/follicle > or = 16 mm was at least 900 pmol/l. Transvaginal aspiration was performed 36 h later. Plasma HCG prior to and 12 h after i.m. injection as well as the follicular fluid (FF) concentrations of oestradiol, progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and HCG were determined in the study group and controls. The in-vitro biological activity of the batch of HCG used by the EFS cases and the control group was determined using a Leydig cell preparation from adult rats. Furthermore, the plasma clearance rate after i.v. injection of 5000 IU of HCG, from the same batches, was studied in three male volunteers. In the IVF cycles, no HCG was detected in plasma prior to the injection of commercial HCG. After 12 h, no HCG was detected in the study group compared to a mean of 207.5 IU/l (110-360) in controls. Mean FF concentration of LH, HCG, progesterone and oestradiol was 0.9 IU/l, 0 IU/l, 3.1 nmol/ml and 4.4 nmol/ml in EFS compared to 1.0, 98.3, 32.0 and 3.7 in pregnancy cycles. The in-vitro biological activity in both HCG batches was not significantly different; however, immunoreactive HCG used in EFS cases was undetectable in plasma of male volunteers as soon as 10 min after i.v. injection of 5000 IU of HCG. The endocrine abnormalities found in follicular fluids of EFS are not a consequence of an ovarian problem but the result of a lack of exposure to biologically active HCG. The rapid clearance of the drug after i.v. injection and the high affinity of desialylated HCG to liver cells suggest this to be a possible explanation for this infrequent but unfortunate event.

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