Pituitary responsiveness to GnRH varies throughout the normal menstrual cycle. We have investigated whether there are differences in the ovarian mechanisms which regulate gonadotrophin secretion between the follicular and the luteal phase of the cycle. Normally ovulating women were studied during the first week following hysterectomy plus bilateral ovariectomy performed either in the mid- to late follicular phase (follicle size 16 mm) or in the early to midluteal phase (5 days post LH peak). The response of LH to a single dose of 10 micrograms GnRH was investigated 2 hours before the operation and every 12 hours after the operation until postoperative day 4 and every 24 hours until day 8. Fourteen normally cycling premenopausal women with normal FSH (< 10 IU/l). Seven women were ovariectomized in the follicular and 7 in the luteal phase. Pituitary response to GnRH was calculated as the net increase in FSH (delta FSH) and LH (delta LH) at 30 minutes above the basal value. Basal levels of FSH and LH before the operation were significantly lower in the luteal than the follicular phase (P < 0.05), while those of oestradiol (E2) were similar. Also, similar were delta LH and delta FSH values. Serum progesterone and immunoreactive inhibin (Ir-inhibin) concentrations before the operation were higher in the luteal than the follicular phase (P < 0.05). Following the operation, serum E2, progesterone and Ir-inhibin values declined dramatically, while basal FSH and LH as well as delta FSH values showed a gradual and significant increase. The percentage increase in FSH and LH values (mean +/- SEM) on day 8 after the operation was similar in the follicular (453 +/- 99% and 118 +/- 35% respectively) and the luteal phase (480 +/- 71% and 192 +/- 45% respectively). In contrast to delta FSH, delta LH values after a temporal increase 12 hours from the operation, remained stable in the follicular phase and declined significantly in the luteal phase up to day 4. Basal gonadotrophin secretion during the normal menstrual cycle is predominantly under a negative ovarian effect. It is suggested that in contrast to FSH, the secretion of LH in response to GnRH is controlled by different ovarian mechanisms during the two phases of the menstrual cycle.