Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists


Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) agonists/analogues are a class of drugs primarily used in the management of hormone-responsive diseases. They play a crucial role in manipulating the hormonal environment within the body, specifically targeting the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Here’s a comprehensive look at their pharmacology:

Drug examples

Here are some examples of GnRH agonists:

  1. Leuprolide (Lupron, Eligard): One of the most commonly prescribed GnRH agonists, it is used to treat prostate cancer, endometriosis, and fibroids. It is also used in fertility treatments.
  2. Goserelin (Zoladex): Used in the treatment of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and endometriosis.
  3. Triptorelin (Trelstar, Decapeptyl): Prescribed for prostate cancer, endometriosis, and precocious puberty.
  4. Nafarelin (Synarel): This nasal spray is used for endometriosis and precocious puberty.
  5. Histrelin (Vantas, Supprelin LA): Used in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer and central precocious puberty.
  6. Buserelin (Suprefact, Suprecor): Used for prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometriosis, and in fertility treatments.

Mechanism of Action

  1. Receptor Activation:

    • GnRH agonists are synthetic peptides that act by binding to and activating the Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone receptors in the pituitary gland, thus stimulating the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH)​1​.
    • Initially, this leads to a surge in the levels of these hormones, which in turn increases the levels of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
  2. Desensitization:

    • Continued administration of GnRH agonists leads to a phenomenon known as “downregulation” or desensitization. Over time, the pituitary gland becomes less responsive to GnRH, which eventually results in a significant reduction in the levels of FSH and LH, and subsequently, a drop in sex hormone levels​2​.
  3. Inhibition of Sex Hormone Synthesis:

    • Through the above mechanisms, GnRH agonists cause a profound inhibition of estrogen and androgen synthesis, which is particularly useful in conditions that are sensitive to these hormones​3​.


  • Administration: GnRH agonists can be administered through various routes, including injections (subcutaneous or intramuscular), implants, and nasal sprays.
  • Absorption and Distribution: The absorption and distribution depend on the specific form and route of administration.
  • Metabolism and Excretion: They are typically metabolized and excreted by the body, with the specifics varying by the particular drug.

Adverse Effects

  • Initial Hormone Flare: The initial increase in gonadotropins can lead to a temporary increase in sex hormone levels, potentially exacerbating symptoms.
  • Menopausal Symptoms: Including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness in women.
  • Decreased Libido and Erectile Dysfunction: In men.
  • Bone Density Loss: Long-term use can lead to a decrease in bone density.
  • Mood Swings and Depression

Clinical Uses

  • Prostate Cancer: Predominantly used as androgen deprivation therapy in advanced prostate cancer cases to lower testosterone levels which fuel the growth of prostate cancer cells​3​.
  • Endometriosis: Used to relieve symptoms of endometriosis in adult women by reducing estrogen levels​2​.
  • Central Precocious Puberty: Employed to delay the onset of central precocious puberty in children​2​.
  • Endometriosis: Helps to reduce estrogen levels and alleviate symptoms.
  • Uterine Fibroids: Used to shrink fibroids and manage symptoms.
  • Fertility Treatment: Used as part of controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Monitoring and Management

  • Bone Density: Long-term users should be monitored for bone density loss, and preventive measures should be taken.
  • Cardiovascular Health: Some GnRH agonists have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Mood and Mental Health: Patients should be monitored for mood swings and signs of depression.


GnRH agonists are powerful medications used to manage a variety of conditions related to reproductive health. While they can be highly effective, their use is associated with significant side effects, particularly related to the decrease in sex hormones. Careful monitoring and management of these side effects are crucial to ensure safe and effective treatment. Appropriate patient selection and counseling are essential to optimize outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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