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J. E. Robinson and F. J. Karsch

Summary. The reproductive neuroendocrine response of Suffolk ewes to the direction of daylength change was determined in animals which were ovariectomized and treated with constant release capsules of oestradiol. Two groups of animals were initially exposed to 16 or 10 h light/day for 74 days. On day zero of the study, when one group of ewes was reproductively stimulated (elevated LH concentrations) and the other reproductively inhibited (undetectable LH concentrations), half the animals from each group were transferred to an intermediate daylength of 13 h light/day. The remaining ewes were maintained on their respective solstice photoperiods to control for photorefractoriness. LH concentrations rose in animals experiencing a 3 h decrease in daylength from 16L:8D to 13L:11D while LH concentrations fell to undetectable values in those that experienced a 3 h increase in daylength from 10L:14D to 13L:1 1D. The photoperiodic response of the Suffolk ewe, therefore, depends on her daylength history. Such a result could be explained if the 24-h secretory pattern of melatonin secretion, known to transduce photoperiodic information to the reproductive axis, was influenced by the direction of change of daylength. Hourly samples for melatonin were collected for 24h 17 days before and three times after transfer to 13L:1 ID. The melatonin secretory profile always conformed to daylength. Therefore, the mechanism by which the same photoperiod can produce opposite neuroendocrine responses must lie downstream from the pineal gland in the processing of the melatonin signal.

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D. C. Skinner and J. E. Robinson

The presence of melatonin-binding sites in the ovine pars tuberalis is well established, but data on melatonin binding in the pars distalis are inconsistent. The distribution of melatonin-binding sites in the ovine hypophysis was investigated using in vitro auto-radiography and the high-affinity, high specific-activity ligand 2-[125 I]iodomelatonin. The histology of sections was visualized with Heidenhain's azan stain and sections were immunoreacted against ovine LH (β-subunit) using standard immunocytochemical techniques. Melatonin binding in the hypophysis was restricted to the pars tuberalis and the zona tuberalis. The zona tuberalis is histologically similar to the pars tuberalis and appears to be a ventral extension of this region, although the shape and size of the zona tuberalis are extremely variable between individuals. Like the anteroventral pars tuberalis, there is a high concentration of immunoreactive gonadotrophs in the zona tuberalis. The density of immunoreactive gonadotrophs alone is sufficient to discriminate between the zona tuberalis and the pars distalis. Our data suggest that the zona tuberalis and the pars tuberalis are part of the same endocrine tissue and that melatonin-binding sites are not present in the pars distalis proper.

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B. Malpaux, J. E. Robinson, M. B. Brown and F. J. Karsch

Summary. Three groups of ovariectomized Suffolk ewes bearing s.c. Silastic implants of oestradiol were subjected to a 90-day priming treatment of an inhibitory long photoperiod (16 h light/day; 16L:8D). On Day 0 of the experiment, they were moved to stimulatory photoperiods. One control group was transferred to 12L:12D and a second control group was transferred to 8L:16D; both groups remained in those photoperiods to determine the timing of reproductive induction and refractoriness. The experimental group was transferred to 12L:12D on Day 0 and then to 8L:16D on Day 55 to determine whether the further reduction in daylength could delay the development of refractoriness. Reproductive neuroendocrine condition was monitored by serum concentrations of LH and FSH. Both gonadotrophins remained elevated for a longer period of time in the experimental group receiving the second reduction in daylength than in either control group, indicating that the second photoperiodic drop delayed the onset of photorefractoriness. Measurement of 24-h patterns of circulating melatonin suggests that the prolonged stimulation of reproductive neuroendocrine activity in the experimental group resulted from a lengthening of the nocturnal melatonin rise. These findings indicate that refractoriness to an inductive photoperiod can be temporarily overcome by exposure to a shorter daylength, and that the change in duration of the nocturnal increase in melatonin secretion is important in photoperiodic signalling. Thus, in natural conditions, the decreasing autumnal daylength, and the resulting expansion of the nocturnal elevation in melatonin secretion, may be utilized to produce a breeding season of normal duration.

Keywords: seasonal reproduction; photorefractoriness; melatonin; oestradiol negative feedback; photoperiodic history; sheep

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J. Keating, C. E. Grundy, P. S. Fivey, M. Elliott and J. Robinson

Defective sperm function has been identified as one of the most common causes of human infertility. The aim of this investigation was to identify whether the presence of retained cytoplasm on the human sperm midpiece is associated with defective sperm function. Statistical analysis of data demonstrated a strong negative correlation between the presence of residual cytoplasm on the midpiece of spermatozoa in the inseminate and fertilization rate during IVF. Significant negative correlations were also identified between the percentage of spermatozoa in the ejaculate bearing cytoplasmic residues and (i) spermatozoa having membrane integrity and (ii) sperm concentration. A highly significant positive correlation was also revealed between the percentage of spermatozoa in the ejaculate with membrane integrity and the percentage of motile spermatozoa. These correlations suggest that retained cytoplasm is a cause of subfertility. Measurements of the percentage of spermatozoa bearing residual cytoplasm in the IVF inseminate could provide the basis for a simple predictive test before IVF.

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G. B. SHARMAN, E. S. ROBINSON, SHIRLEY M. WALTON and PATRICIA J. BERGER

Summary.

Two intersexual tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii), one intersexual euro (Macropus robustus) and one intersexual brush possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) were studied.

One tammar had 17 chromosomes instead of the 16 characteristic of the species. There were 14 autosomes and two X and one Y sex chromosomes (XXY intersex). The animal was of female body phenotype (weight basis) and had a pouch containing four everted and well-developed teats with underlying mammary tissue. Undescended non-functional testes were present, one of which was distinctly abnormal. The accessory reproductive structures (apart from the pouch and mammary glands) were of the male type and the penis was well developed.

In the second tammar, dividing cells resembling spermatogonia in one gonad had 14 autosomes and one X chromosome (XO intersex). This animal was of female body phenotype and had a pouch containing two very small teats on one side, with underlying rudimentary mammary tissue. A small scrotum was present. The gonads were nonfunctional, undescended ovo-testes. Both gonads had tissue resembling the interstitial tissue of the normal ovary, and structures containing cells resembling undifferentiated spermatogonia. The accessory reproductive structures were essentially of the female type.

The intersexual euro and the intersexual brush possum (XY intersexes) had well developed pouches containing rudimentary mammae but on dissection were found to have normal male reproductive systems, the testes being within the body cavity. These had small testicular tubules and a greater than normal quantity of interstitial tissue. There were no meiotic stages of spermatogenesis.

It is concluded that the Y chromosome is strongly male-determining and that there is no obvious correlation between karyotype and occurrence of pouch and mammary tissue in marsupials.

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R S Robinson, A J Hammond, G E Mann and M G Hunter

Luteal inadequacy is a major cause of poor embryo development and infertility. Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, is an essential process underpinning corpus luteum (CL) development and progesterone production. Thus, understanding the factors that regulate angiogenesis during this critical time is essential for the development of novel strategies to alleviate luteal inadequacy and infertility. This study demonstrates the development of a physiologically relevant primary culture system that mimics luteal angiogenesis. This system incorporates all luteal cell types (e.g. endothelial, steroidogenic cells, fibroblasts and pericytes). Using this approach, endothelial cells, identified by the specific marker von Willebrand factor (VWF), start to form clusters on day 2, which then proliferate and develop thread-like structures. After 9 days in culture, these tubule-like structures lengthen, thicken and form highly organized intricate networks resembling a capillary bed. Development of the vasculature was promoted by coating wells with fibronectin, as determined by image analysis (P<0.001). Progesterone production increased with time and was stimulated by LH re-enforcing the physiological relevance of the model in mimicking in vivo luteal function. LH also increased the area stained positively for VWF by twofold (P<0.05). Development of this endothelial cell network was stimulated by fibroblast growth factor 2 and vascular endothelial growth factor A, which increased total area of VWF positive staining on day 9, both independently (three- to fourfold; P<0.01) and in combination (tenfold; P<0.001). In conclusion, the successful development of endothelial cell networks in vitro provides a new opportunity to elucidate the physiological control of the angiogenic process in the developing CL.

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Kathryn J Woad, Morag G Hunter, George E Mann, Mhairi Laird, Amanda J Hammond and Robert S Robinson

Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) 2 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) A are thought to be key controllers of luteal angiogenesis; however, their precise roles in the regulation and coordination of this complex process remain unknown. Thus, the temporal and spatial patterns of endothelial network formation were determined by culturing mixed cell types from early bovine corpora lutea on fibronectin in the presence of FGF2 and VEGFA (6 h to 9 days). Endothelial cells, as determined by von Willebrand factor immunohistochemistry, initially grew in cell islands (days 0–3), before undergoing a period of vascular sprouting to display a more tubule-like appearance (days 3–6), and after 9 days in culture had formed extensive intricate networks. Mixed populations of luteal cells were treated with SU1498 (VEGF receptor 2 inhibitor) or SU5402 (FGF receptor 1 inhibitor) or control on days 0–3, 3–6 or 6–9 to determine the role of FGF2 and VEGFA during these specific windows. The total area of endothelial cells was unaffected by SU1498 treatment during any window. In contrast, SU5402 treatment caused maximal reduction in the total area of endothelial cell networks on days 3–6 vs controls (mean reduction 81%; P<0.001) during the period of tubule initiation. Moreover, SU5402 treatment on days 3–6 dramatically reduced the total number of branch points (P<0.001) and degree of branching per endothelial cell island (P<0.05) in the absence of changes in mean island area. This suggests that FGF2 is a key determinant of vascular sprouting and hence critical to luteal development.

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Kathryn J Woad, Amanda J Hammond, Morag Hunter, George E Mann, Morag G Hunter and Robert S Robinson

The development of the corpus luteum requires angiogenesis, and involves the complex interplay between factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA), fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF). However, the relative role of these factors remains to be elucidated. This study used a new physiologically relevant mixed luteal cell culture system to test the hypotheses that: a) FGF2 and VEGFA are critical for bovine luteal angiogenesis; and b) local luteal PDGF signalling stimulates the formation of endothelial networks. Cells were treated with receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors against VEGFA (SU1498), FGF2 (SU5402) or PDGF (AG1295) activity. After 9 days in culture, endothelial cells were immunostained for von Willebrand factor (VWF) and quantified by image analysis. Highly organised intricate endothelial networks were formed in the presence of exogenous VEGFA and FGF2. The inhibition of FGF2 activity reduced the total area of VWF staining versus controls (>95%; P<0.001). Inhibition of VEGF and PDGF activity reduced the endothelial network formation by more than 60 and 75% respectively (P<0.05). Progesterone production increased in all treatments from day 1 to 7 (P<0.001), and was unaffected by FGF2 or PDGF receptor kinase inhibition (P>0.05), but was reduced by the VEGF receptor inhibitor on days 5 and 7 (P<0.001). In conclusion, this study confirmed that VEGF signalling regulates both bovine luteal angiogenesis and progesterone production. However, FGF2 was crucial for luteal endothelial network formation. Also, for the first time, this study showed that local luteal PDGF activity regulates bovine luteal endothelial network formation in vitro.

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R S Robinson, K J Woad, A J Hammond, M Laird, M G Hunter and G E Mann

Ovarian function is dependent on the establishment and continual remodelling of a complex vascular system. This enables the follicle and/or corpus luteum (CL) to receive the required supply of nutrients, oxygen and hormonal support as well as facilitating the release of steroids. Moreover, the inhibition of angiogenesis results in the attenuation of follicular growth, disruption of ovulation and drastic effects on the development and function of the CL. It appears that the production and action of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) is necessary at all these stages of development. However, the expression of fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) in the cow is more dynamic than that of VEGFA with a dramatic upregulation during the follicular–luteal transition. This upregulation is then likely to initiate intense angiogenesis in the presence of high VEGFA levels. Recently, we have developed a novel ovarian physiological angiogenesis culture system in which highly organised and intricate endothelial cell networks are formed. This system will enable us to elucidate the complex inter-play between FGF2 and VEGFA as well as other angiogenic factors in the regulation of luteal angiogenesis. Furthermore, recent evidence indicates that pericytes might play an active role in driving angiogenesis and highlights the importance of pericyte–endothelial interactions in this process. Finally, the targeted promotion of angiogenesis may lead to the development of novel strategies to alleviate luteal inadequacy and infertility.

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K. D. Sinclair, T. G. McEvoy, E. K. Maxfield, C. A. Maltin, L. E. Young, I. Wilmut, P. J. Broadbent and J. J. Robinson

The effects of in vitro culture systems for sheep zygotes on subsequent fetal growth and development to day 61 and day 125 of gestation were studied. Zygotes recovered from superovulated Scottish Blackface ewes approximately 36 h after intrauterine insemination using semen from a single Suffolk sire were cultured for 5 days in (a) a granulosa cell co-culture system (co-culture); (b) synthetic oviductal fluid medium without serum (SOF−); and (c) synthetic oviductal fluid medium supplemented with human serum (SOF+). Control embryos were recovered from superovulated donor ewes at day 6 after oestrus. Embryos were transferred at day 6 to synchronous Scottish Blackface recipient ewes. In total, 146 gravid uteri were recovered, comprising 97 at day 61 (20 co-culture, 27 SOF−, 25 SOF+ and 25 control) and 49 at day 125 (13 co-culture, 8 SOF−, 6 SOF+ and 22 control) of gestation. Fetuses derived from co-cultured embryos were 14% heavier (P < 0.01) by day 61 of gestation than those derived from control embryos. Growth coefficients derived from the linear allometric equation loge y = loge a + b loge x (where y = organ mass; x = fetal mass) were significantly greater (P < 0.05) for liver, heart, kidneys and plantaris muscle in fetuses derived from co-cultured embryos, and for liver in fetuses derived from SOF+ embryos than those for control fetuses. Fetuses derived from co-cultured embryos were 34% heavier (P < 0.001) and fetuses derived from SOF+ embryos were 18% heavier (P < 0.01) by day 125 of gestation than those derived from control embryos. Growth coefficients for liver and heart for fetuses derived from co-culture and SOF+ embryos were also significantly greater (P < 0.05) at this stage of gestation than those for control group fetuses. In contrast, allometric coefficients for these organs in fetuses derived from embryos cultured in SOF without serum supplementation were not different from those for controls. Excessive volumes of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) were observed in 23% of conceptuses derived from co-cultured embryos. In vitro embryo culture can significantly influence fetal growth and this study provides quantitative evidence of major shifts in the patterns of organ and tissue development.