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J. English, A. L. Poulton, J. Arendt, and A. M. Symons

Summary. Early oestrous cycles were induced in adult, maiden, 18-month-old Suffolkcross ewes, maintained from birth in natural photoperiod by the following treatments applied from mid-June: (a) subcutaneous implantation of melatonin (1 g) in Silastic packets, (b) daily, oral, melatonin administration (3 mg/ewe) at 15:30 h, (c) an artificial photoperiod of 8L:16D (lights on 07:30 h). Ovarian cycles began 5–10 weeks before those of control ewes maintained in a natural photoperiod. In contrast, the onset of ovarian cycles in ewes given s.c. implants of melatonin (1 g) in April, and a further group in May, was highly variable, and not significantly different from that of the control ewes.

Plasma melatonin profiles in sheep with implants showed a night-time rise superimposed on a constant level, which was itself within the physiological night-time range. Implant-derived melatonin declined with time but remained at or above physiological night-time levels for at least 3½ months. These results indicate that melatonin implants in June, but not in April or May, advance onset of oestrus in the non-lactating, adult ewe. The effects of melatonin implants in June on onset of ovarian cycles were indistinguishable from those of melatonin feeding or artificial short photoperiod initiated at this time of year.

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A M English, D A Kenny, C J Byrne, H Sauerwein, C Urh, M A Crowe, C Staub, S M Waters, and S Fair

The objective of this study was to examine the effect of nutrition during the first 18 weeks of life on the physiological and transcriptional functionality of the hypothalamic (arcuate nucleus region), anterior pituitary and testes in Holstein–Friesian bull calves. Holstein–Friesian bull calves with a mean (±s.d.) age and bodyweight of 19 (±8.2) days and 47.5 (±5.3) kg, respectively, were assigned to either a HIGH (n = 10) or LOW (n = 10) plane of nutrition, to achieve an overall target growth rate of 1.2 or 0.5 kg/day, respectively. At 126 ± 1.1 days of age, all calves were euthanised. Animal performance (weekly) and systemic concentrations of metabolic (monthly) and reproductive hormones (fortnightly) were assessed. Testicular histology, targeted gene and protein expression of the arcuate nucleus region, anterior pituitary and testes were also assessed using qPCR and immunohistochemistry, respectively. The expression of candidate genes in testicular tissue from post pubertal 19-month-old Holstein–Friesian bulls (n = 10) was compared to that of the 18-week-old calves. Metabolite and metabolic hormone profiles generally reflected the improved metabolic status of the calves on the HIGH (P < 0.001). Calves offered a HIGH plane of nutrition were heavier at slaughter (P < 0.001), had larger testes (P < 0.001), larger seminiferous tubule diameter (P < 0.001), more mature spermatogenic cells (P < 0.001) and more Sertoli cells (P < 0.05) in accordance with both morphological and transcriptional data. Overall, testicular gene expression profiles suggested a more mature stage of development in HIGH compared with LOW and were more closely aligned to that of mature bulls. Ghrelin receptor was the only differentially expressed gene between LOW and HIGH calves in either the anterior pituitary (P < 0.05) or arcuate nucleus region of the hypothalamus (P < 0.10) and was upregulated in LOW for both tissues. This study indicates that an enhanced plane of nutrition during early calfhood favourably alters the biochemical regulation of the hypothalamus–anterior pituitary–testicular axis, advancing testicular development and hastening spermatogenesis.