Summary. The hypothesis that the secretion of gonadotrophins would be reduced by zinc deficiency was tested in five groups of four young Merino rams (initial liveweight 22 kg). Four groups were fed ad libitum with diets containing 4, 10, 17 or 27 μg Zn g−1. The effects of loss of appetite on the deficient diet was controlled by feeding a fifth group (pair-fed control) at a rate of 27 μg Zn g−1, but the amount of feed offered was restricted to that eaten voluntarily by the deficient (4 μg Zn g−1) group. Blood was sampled every 20 min for 32 h on two occasions before the treatments were imposed and 96 days later, at the end of the experiment. The rams were injected with gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH; 10 ng kg−1 i.v.) after each serial sampling, and with naloxone (1 mg kg−1 i.v.) 24 h after the end of the final GnRH test.
In the group that were fed the diet with the lowest zinc content, the concentration of zinc in blood plasma was reduced to 18% of that in the pair-fed controls (P < 0·05) and was within the deficient range. The appetite of the deficient rams was half that of the controls fed 27 μg Zn g−1 ad libitum and there was no increase in liveweight or testicular diameter during pubertal development. Similar, but smaller, effects were observed in the pair-fed controls. There were no significant differences between pair-fed and deficient groups in the frequency of the luteinizing hormone (LH) pulses or in the concentration of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), but the secretion of gonadotrophins was markedly lower in both groups than in the control rams fed ad libitum. The response to GnRH was not affected by treatment, but the increase in LH pulse frequency evoked by naloxone was lower in the deficient animals than in other groups. The animals fed zinc at intermediate rates (10–17 μg μ−1) showed similar responses to the controls fed ad libitum.
It is concluded that the specific effects of zinc deficiency on testicular function were small. Most of the reduction in testicular growth in rams fed a deficient diet was not specifically related to the trace element, but was due to the fall in energy and protein intake caused by the loss of appetite. This leads to a reduction in the frequency of GnRH pulses secreted by the hypothalamus, and to low rates of gonadotrophin secretion by the pituitary gland.
Keywords: zinc; testis; gonadotrophin; nutrition; sheep