Summary. In Sprague–Dawley rats kept under 14L:10D (lights on 05:00–19:00 h), parturition occurred during the light phase on Day 23, and the pre-partum decrease in progesterone concentrations was observed between 07:00 and 15:00 h during the light period on Day 22. When the rats were transferred to reversed light–dark regimen (lights on 17:00–07:00 h) on Day 7, the progesterone decrease and parturition still occurred during the light period on Day 21 and 22–23, respectively. However, when rats were kept in constant darkness from Day 7, parturition occurred independently of the time of day between Day 22 and 24. A gradual decline of progesterone concentrations was randomly observed in individual rats. In Wistar rats kept under the usual light–dark regimen, parturitions were biphasic, occurring during the light periods on Day 22 and 23. The progesterone decrease occurred at the usual time even when the lighting regimen was changed only on the day of the expected progesterone decrease. However, treatment with pentobarbitone sodium at 15:00, 19:00 or 21:00 h, but not at 12:00 or 23:00 h, on Day 21 resulted in a delay of progesterone decrease and of parturition. Complete lesion of the suprachiasmatic nucleus on Day 13 or 14 led to advancement and random distribution of the time of birth.
These results suggest that the time of parturition and of pre-partum progesterone decrease may be closely associated with an endogenous circadian system, and a luteolytic factor involving the nervous system may be present during a limited period before parturition.