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Bruno Allolio, Martin Oremus, Martin Reincke, Hans-Jörg Schaeffer, Werner Winkelmann, Georg Heck, and Heinrich M Schulte

Allolio B, Oremus M, Reincke M, Schaeffer H-J, Winkelmann W, Heck G, Schulte HM. High-dose progesterone infusion in healthy males: evidence against antiglucocorticoid activity of progesterone. Eur J Endocrinol 1995;133:696–700. ISSN 0804–4643

High concentrations of unbound cortisol in late pregnancy have been explained by the antiglucocorticoid activity of high progesterone levels. To further test this hypothesis we studied the effect of high-dose progesterone on baseline and corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH)-induced hormone secretion in humans. In a double-blind crossover study eight healthy male volunteers received either progesterone (0.714 mg · kg−1 · h−1 for 60 min followed by a dose of 0.45 mg · kg−1 · h−1 over a total infusion time of 315 min) or vehicle as a continuous intravenous infusion. At 210 min a CRH test (0.1 μg/kg body weight as bolus iv) was performed. Within 30 min after the start of progesterone administration the serum progesterone level increased to 454 ± 31 nmol/l and remained in the range of third trimester pregnancy concentrations throughout the infusion period. During vehicle infusion the progesterone level remained in the normal range for healthy males and demonstrated a small but significant increase after CRH (1.52 ± 0.23 vs 0.74 ± 0.14 nmol/l; p < 0.01). However, baseline and CRH-stimulated serum cortisol and plasma adrenocorticotrophic hormone remained unaffected by high-dose progesterone. Moreover, unbound salivary cortisol also was not affected by progesterone, suggesting that there is no significant competition for transcortin binding sites. In conclusion, no antiglucorticoid activity was found after short-term administration of progesterone in males. These findings cast doubts on the concept that the alterations of the pituitary–adrenal axis in late pregnancy are induced by the antiglucocorticoid activity of high progesterone concentrations.

Bruno Allolio, Medizinische Universitätsklinik Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Str. 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany