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J Reprod Fertil Suppl. 1997;51:345-54.

Effects of progestin administration on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and glucose homeostasis in dogs.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


The effects of medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) and proligestone (PROL) on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis and glucose homeostasis were studied in two groups of eight ovariohysterectomized beagle bitches. In addition, the binding characteristics of MPA and PROL for the progesterone and glucocorticoid receptor were investigated. The administration of both progestins resulted in suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Whereas basal plasma concentrations of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) were only moderately affected, the basal plasma concentrations of cortisol and the cortisol:creatinine ratio in urine were significantly decreased after the first administration of both progestins. In the group given MPA the increase of ACTH after stimulation with corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) remained normal but it was suppressed in the group treated with PROL. In both treatment groups the increase of cortisol after stimulation with CRH was lower. After cessation of progestin administration both basal and stimulated plasma ACTH concentrations returned to pretreatment concentrations within a few weeks. In contrast, it took 6 month to restore the basal plasma cortisol concentrations and cortisol:creatinine ratios in urine. Paradoxically, the stimulated cortisol concentrations returned to normal shortly after the cessation. Histological examinations revealed a severe atrophy of the zona fasciculata and reticularis of the adrenal gland in all treated dogs and a steroid-induced hepatopathy in 50% of them. During the first half of the progestin treatment, glucose homeostasis was maintained by increased plasma concentrations of insulin in both groups. After prolonged treatment the response to a glucose load became impaired. None of these parameters improved during the 6 month recovery period. Histological changes in the pancreas, characteristics of diabetes mellitus, were found in two dogs of each group. Most probably, the glucocorticoid action of the progestins is not the sole explanation for the insulin resistance since progestin treatment resulted in a concomitant increase in plasma concentrations of growth hormone which has diabetogenic properties. Experiments in vitro confirmed the strong glucocorticoid component of MPA and PROL. The inhibition constants (Ki) of PROL for both the progesterone receptor (PR) and the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) were approximately then times higher than those of MPA. Nonetheless, the ratios of the Ki for the GR and PR indicated that the specificity of MPA and PROL was only slightly different but considerably smaller than that of progesterone. It is long-term treatment with high doses of these progestins may result in a iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome and diabetes mellitus.

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