Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology


T. E. Baby A and P. M. Bartlewski A

University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 22(1) 159-159
Published: 8 December 2009


Ovarian antral follicles in sheep grow in an orderly succession, producing typically 3 to 4 follicular waves per 17-day estrous cycle. Each wave is preceded by a transient increase in circulating FSH concentrations. The mechanism controlling the number of recurrent FSH peaks and emerging follicular waves remains unknown. During the ewe's estrous cycle, the time between the first 2 FSH peaks and days of wave emergence is longer than the intervals separating the ensuing FSH peaks and follicular waves. The prolonged inter-peak/inter-wave interval occurs early in the luteal phase when low levels of progesterone are secreted by developing, or non-fully functional, corpora lutea. The purpose of the present study was to determine the effect of varying progesterone (P4) levels on circulating concentrations of FSH and antral follicular development in sheep. Exogenous P4 (15 mg per ewe i.m.) was administered twice daily to 6 cycling Rideau Arcott × Dorset ewes from Day 0 (ovulation) to Day 4 (the mean duration of the inter-wave interval); 6 animals served as controls. Follicular growth was monitored in all animals by daily transrectal ultrasonography (Days 0 to 9). Jugular blood samples were drawn twice a day from Day 0 to 4 and then daily until Day 9 to measure systemic concentrations of P4 and FSH. The first FSH peak post-ovulation was detected on Day 1.4 ± 0.2 and 4.0 ± 0.2 in treated and control ewes, respectively (P < 0.05). The next FSH peak(s) occurred on Days 3.4 ± 0.3 and 5.2 ± 0.2 in the treatment group and on Day 5.5 ± 0.3 in controls. Consequently, the treatment group had, on average, 3 follicular waves emerging on Days 0, 3, and 6, whereas the controls produced 2 waves emerging on Days 0 and 5 (P < 0.05).We then retrospectively analyzed and compared daily serum concentrations of P4 and FSH obtained in cyclic Western White Face ewes (Columbia × Rambouillet) that had 3 (n = 10) or 4 (n = 19) follicular waves per cycle. Mean P4 concentrations were greater (P < 0.05) in sheep with 4 waves per cycle compared with their counterparts, which had 3 waves of follicular growth. Interestingly, the ewes with 3 waves exceeded (P < 0.05) all animals with 4 follicular waves in mean serum FSH concentrations on Days 0 to 2, 6 to 7, and 9 to 15 post-ovulation. In summary, creation of mid-luteal phase levels of P4 in metestrus shortened the time to the first post-ovulatory FSH peak in ewes, resulting in emergence of one more follicular wave compared with control animals during the same time frame. The ewes exhibiting 4 waves of follicular emergence had greater serum levels of P4 but lower FSH concentrations compared with sheep with 3 waves per cycle. Therefore, progesterone appears to be a key endocrine signal governing the control of periodic increases in serum FSH concentrations and the number of follicular waves in cyclic sheep.

This study was funded by OMAFRA and NSERC grants. Appreciation is extended to Norman C. Rawlings, Susan Cook, and Sekallu Srinivas (University of Saskatchewan) and the staff at Ponsonby Sheep Research Station.

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