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Martina Langhammer, Marten Michaelis, Andreas Hoeflich, Alexander Sobczak, Jennifer Schoen, and Joachim M Weitzel

Animal models are valuable tools in fertility research. Worldwide, there are more than 400 transgenic or knockout mouse models available showing a reproductive phenotype; almost all of them exhibit an infertile or at least subfertile phenotype. By contrast, animal models revealing an improved fertility phenotype are barely described. This article summarizes data on two outbred mouse models exhibiting a ‘high-fertility’ phenotype. These mouse lines were generated via selection over a time period of more than 40 years and 161 generations. During this selection period, the number of offspring per litter and the total birth weight of the entire litter nearly doubled. Concomitantly with the increased fertility phenotype, several endocrine parameters (e.g. serum testosterone concentrations in male animals), physiological parameters (e.g. body weight, accelerated puberty, and life expectancy), and behavioral parameters (e.g. behavior in an open field and endurance fitness on a treadmill) were altered. We demonstrate that the two independently bred high-fertility mouse lines warranted their improved fertility phenotype using different molecular and physiological strategies. The fertility lines display female- as well as male-specific characteristics. These genetically heterogeneous mouse models provide new insights into molecular and cellular mechanisms that enhance fertility. In view of decreasing fertility in men, these models will therefore be a precious information source for human reproductive medicine.

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A German translation of abstract is freely available at

Free access

Marten Michaelis, Alexander Sobczak, Dirk Koczan, Martina Langhammer, Norbert Reinsch, Jennifer Schön, and Joachim M Weitzel


Factors of high fertility are poorly described. The majority of transgenic or knockout models with a reproductive phenotype are subfertile or infertile phenotypes. Few genotypes have been linked to improved reproductive performance (0.2%) or increased litter size (1%). In this study, we used a unique mouse model, fertility line FL1, selected for ‘high fertility’ for more than 170 generations. This strain has almost doubled the number of littermates as well as their total birth weight accompanied by an elevated ovulation rate and increased numbers of corpora lutea compared to a randomly mated and unselected control line (Ctrl). Here, we investigate whether the gonadal tissue of FL1 males are affected by ‘co-evolution’ after more than 40 years of female-focused selection. Using microarrays, we analysed the testicular transcriptome of the FL1 and Ctrl mice. These data were also compared with previously published female gonadal transcriptional alterations. We detected alterations in testicular gene expression, which are partly associated with female reproductive performance. Thus, female-focused selection for litter size has not only affected the female side, but also has been manifested in transcriptional alterations on the male gonadal organ. This suggests consequences for the entire mouse lines in the long run and emphasizes the perspective of inevitably considering both genders about mechanisms of high fertility.

Open access

Martina Langhammer, Erika Wytrwat, Marten Michaelis, Jennifer Schön, Armin Tuchscherer, Norbert Reinsch, and Joachim M Weitzel

We recently described two outbred mouse lines that were selected for large litter size at first delivery. However, lifetime fecundity appears to be economically more important for the husbandry of many polytocous species for which mouse lines might serve as bona fide animal models (e.g. for pigs). In the present study, we compared the lifetime fecundities of two highly fertile mouse lines (FL1 and FL2: >20 offspring/litter at first delivery) with those of an unselected control line (ctrl) and two lines that were selected for high body weight (DU6) and high protein mass (DU6P) without selection pressure on fertility. We tested the hypothesis that selection for large litter size at first parturition would also increase lifetime fecundity in mice, and we observed very large differences between lines. Whereas FL1 and ctrl delivered up to nine and ten litters, none of the DU6 and DU6P females gave birth to more than five litters. In line with this observation, FL1 delivered the most pups per lifetime (85.7/female). FL2 females produced the largest average litter sizes (20.4 pups/litter) in the first four litters; however, they displayed a reduced number of litters. With the exception of ctrl, litter sizes declined from litter to litter. Repeated delivery of litters with high offspring numbers did not affect the general health of FL females. The presented data demonstrate that two biodiverse, highly fertile mouse lines selected for large litter size at first delivery show different lifetime reproductive fitness levels. Thus, these mouse lines might serve as valuable mouse models for investigating lifetime productivity and longevity in farm animals.

Free access

Martina Langhammer, Marten Michaelis, Michaela F Hartmann, Stefan A Wudy, Alexander Sobczak, Gerd Nürnberg, Norbert Reinsch, Jennifer Schön, and Joachim M Weitzel

Mouse models showing an improved fertility phenotype are barely described in the literature. In the present study, we further characterized two outbred mouse models that have been selected for the phenotype ‘high fertility’ for more than 177 generations (fertility lines (FL) 1 and 2). In order to delineate the impact of males and females on fertility parameters, we performed a two-factorial breeding experiment by mating males and females of the three different genotypes (FL1, FL2, unselected control (Ctrl)) in all 9 possible combinations. Reproductive performance, such as number of offspring per litter or total birth weight of the entire pup, mainly depends on the female genotype. Although the reproductive performance of FL1 and FL2 is very similar, their phenotypes differ. FL2 animals of both genders are larger compared to FL1 and control animals. Females of the control line delivered offspring earlier compared to FL1 and FL2 dams. Males of FL1 are the lightest and the only ones who gained weight during the two weeks mating period. To address whether this effect is correlated with differing serum androgen levels, we measured the concentrations of testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone, 4-androstenedione, androstanediol and dihydrotestosterone in males of all three lines by GC–MS. We measured serum testosterone between 5.0 and 6.4 ng/mL, whereas the concentrations of the other androgens were at least one order of magnitude lower, with no significant differences between the lines. Our data indicate that reproductive outcome largely depends on the genotype of the female in a two-factorial breeding experiment and supports previous findings that the phenotype ‘high fertility’ is warranted by using different physiological strategies.