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F. J. P. Ebling and D. L. Foster

Summary. Reproductive responses to photoperiod were directly compared in mature ewes and in their spring-born twin female lambs. All females were ovariectomized and treated with oestradiol implants before transfer into artificial photoperiod; serum LH concentrations and pulsatile LH patterns provided an index of neuroendocrine reproductive activity. Mothers were transferred from natural photoperiod to artificial long days (16 h light:8 h dark) at the summer solstice so that no decrease in photoperiod would be experienced. These ewes began reproductive activity synchronously at the expected time in the autumn. One of each pair of twin lambs was treated exactly as the mothers; to determine the normal timing of puberty the remaining twin was maintained in a photoperiod simulating the natural decrease in daylength. In all 6 control lambs experiencing the simulated natural photoperiod, reproductive activity occurred synchronously at 28 ± 1 weeks of age (2 October ± 7 days). However, in their twin sisters which did not experience a decrease in photoperiod, only 2 of 6 lambs had begun reproductive activity by the end of the experiment at 52 weeks of age (March), and these were both delayed relative to their twin control lambs exposed to decreasing daylength. Therefore, a decrease in photoperiod is necessary for the normal timing of puberty in the spring-born, female sheep, whereas seasonally anoestrous, mature sheep can enter the breeding season at a normal time in the absence of decreasing photoperiod. We suggest that the requirement for a decreasing photoperiod by the spring-born lamb reflects its limited photoperiodic history as compared to the adult.

Keywords: puberty; photoperiod; sheep; LH

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G. A. Lincoln and F. J. P. Ebling

Summary. Seasonal cycles in the size of the testes, blood plasma concentration of testosterone, FSH and prolactin, intensity of the sexual skin flush, timing of rutting behaviour and moulting of the body coat were recorded in Soay rams after s.c. implantation of melatonin contained in a Silastic envelope which increased the circulating blood levels of melatonin to 200–600 pg/ml for many months. Two groups of 8 adult rams were held under alternating periods of short days (8L:16D) and long days (16L: 8D) to drive the seasonal cycles and the treatments with melatonin were initiated during the long or short days, and one group of 8 ram lambs was kept out of doors and given implants during the long days of summer (4 melatonin-implanted and 4 control (empty implants) rams per group).

The treatments demonstrated that (1) melatonin implants during exposure to long days resulted in a rapid 'switch on' of reproductive redevelopment similar to that produced by exposure to short days; (2) melatonin implants prevented the rams from showing the normal responses to changes in the prevailing photoperiod rendering them non-photoperiodic; and (3) long-term cyclic changes in testicular activity, prolactin secretion and other characteristics occurred in the melatonin-implanted rams; the pattern was similar to that previously observed in rams exposed to prolonged periods of short days.

The overall results are consistent with the view that melatonin is the physiological hormone that relays the effects of changing photoperiod on reproduction and other seasonal features, and that continuous exogenous melatonin from an implant interferes with the normal 'signal' and produces an over-riding short-day response.

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M Myers, K L Britt, N G M Wreford, F J P Ebling and J B Kerr

Accurate estimation of the number of ovarian follicles at various stages of development is an important indicator of the process of folliculogenesis in relation to the endocrine signals and paracrine/autocrine mechanisms that control the growth and maturation of the oocytes and their supporting follicular cells. There are 10-fold or greater differences in follicular numbers per ovary at similar ages and/or strains reported in earlier studies using various methods, leading to difficulties with interpretation of ovarian function in control vs experimental conditions. This study describes unbiased, assumption-free stereological methods for quantification of early and growing follicular numbers in the mouse ovary. A fractionator approach was used to sample a defined fraction of histological sections of adult wild-type ovaries. Primordial and primary follicles were counted independently with the optical and physical disector methods. The fractionator/disector methods, which are independent of follicular size or shape, gave estimations of 1930 ± 286 (S.E.M.) and 2227 ± 101 primordial follicles, and 137 ± 25 and 265 ± 32 primary follicles per ovary at 70 and 100 days of age respectively. From exact counts on serial sections, secondary and later follicular numbers at 100 days of age were estimated at 135 per ovary. Remnants of zona pellucidae (a marker of previous follicular atresia) were estimated using a fractionator/physical disector approach and were approximately 500 per ovary. The application of the quantitative methods described will facilitate an improved understanding of follicular dynamics and the factors that mediate their growth and maturation and allow for a better comparison between different studies.

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Y. Hui, M. H. Hastings, E. S. Maywood and F. J. P. Ebling

Summary. It has been suggested that changes in endogenous glutamatergic stimulation of secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) induced by photoperiod play a role in regulating seasonal cycles of reproductive activity. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that the glutamatergic control of the secretion of LH in the male Syrian hamster is sensitive to photoperiod, by determining whether the glutamate agonist Nmethyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) could stimulate LH secretion in this species and, if so, to determine whether the response varied among animals exposed to different daylengths. In the first experiment, adult male hamsters were housed in either short days (8 h light: 16 h dark) for 6 weeks to induce testicular regression, or long days (16 h light:8 h dark) to maintain testicular function, and the effects of systemic administration of NMDA on serum LH concentrations were determined. In the short-day hamsters, all s.c. doses of NMDA (25–75 mg kg−1 body weight) produced a robust rise in serum LH concentrations within 15 min. In the long-day hamsters, basal LH concentrations were higher than in short-day hamsters, but only the highest dose of NMDA produced a significant increase in LH concentrations, and the magnitude of this increment was less than those observed in short days. In hamsters in long days, the low doses of NMDA that did not significantly alter LH concentrations nevertheless significantly suppressed serum prolactin concentrations, demonstrating the efficacy of the drug. In hamsters in short days, serum prolactin concentrations were at the limit of detection of the assay, so no inhibitory effect of NMDA on prolactin secretion could be determined on this photoperiod. In the second experiment, the effects of a fixed dose of NMDA (50 mg kg−1 body weight) was tested at intervals in hamsters exposed to short days for a prolonged period such that their testes initially regressed, but then became scotorefractory and testicular recrudescence occurred. After 6 and 12 weeks in short days, NMDA stimulated LH secretion. However, after 24 weeks in short days when testicular recrudescence was complete, the response to NMDA was lost. A third experiment determined whether the reduced response to NMDA in hamsters on long days relative to those in short days might result from higher concentrations of circulating testosterone. Hamsters in long days were castrated to remove the influence of gonadal feedback, and the response to NMDA tested 3 weeks later when endogenous LH concentrations had risen to levels characteristic of the chronically castrated condition. NMDA significantly reduced serum LH in castrated hamsters. Thus, the increased LH response to NMDA in hamsters in short days is unlikely to reflect the very low serum testosterone concentrations at this time. A preliminary experiment was conducted with the glutamate antagonist MK801 to investigate whether endogenous glutamatergic mechanisms support LH secretion in hamsters in long days. Systemic treatment with MK801 (0·6 mg kg−1 body weight, i.p.) did not significantly alter LH concentrations at 30 or 60 min after injection, though this dose did increase LH secretion in castrate hamsters as might be expected in view of the paradoxical inhibitory action of NMDA in castrates. Although this acute experimental paradigm did not provide direct evidence for endogenous glutamatergic control of LH in sexually active hamsters, the increased sensitivity and responsiveness to the agonist NMDA in hamsters in short days is consistent with the view that endogenous glutamatergic stimulation is decreased in this photoperiod, and that this decreased activity contributes to the regression of the reproductive axis.

Keywords: photoperiod; NMDA; LH; prolactin; hamster; season