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J. J. Ireland and J. F. Roche

Summary. Heifers between Days 6 and 10 of the cycle were allocated at random to groups of 8 and treated with (i) a 4% progesterone-releasing intravaginal device (PRID) + oestrogen capsule for 12 days; (ii) 4% PRID for 12 days; (iii) 20% PRID for 12 days; (iv) 4% PRID for 14 days; or (v) 20% PRID for 14 days. Blood was obtained daily during treatment and at 2- or 4-h intervals for 72 h after removal of PRIDs. Some animals were sampled every 20 min for 4·67 h on the 3rd day after PRID insertion, and 1 day before and 36 h after removal of the PRID. During progesterone treatment there was: (i) no correlation between concentrations of progesterone and LH within days; (ii) a significant negative correlation between progesterone and days (P < 0·01) and also between progesterone and LH over days (P < 0·01); (iii) the overall correlation co-efficient between LH and days was positive (P < 0·05). The amplitude of LH or FSH episodes was not affected as progesterone concentrations declined during PRID treatment, but the number of LH (but not FSH) episodes was increased (P < 0·01). After PRID removal, the amplitude of both LH and FSH episodes increased (P < 0·01). We suggest that progesterone is part of a negative feedback complex on LH secretion in cattle and that this effect is apparently mediated through frequency of episodic LH release.

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S. J. Sunderland, M. A. Crowe, M. P. Boland, J. F. Roche and J. J. Ireland

This study examined the correlation between measurement of follicle growth by ultrasound, and measurement of intrafollicular ratios of oestradiol and progesterone concentrations and the serum concentrations of FSH during selection, dominance and atresia or ovulation of dominant follicles in heifers. Heifers were ovariectomized on days 0 (before LH surge), 1 (after LH surge, preovulation), 1 (postovulation), 3, 6 and 12 of the oestrous cycle. Blood samples were collected at 4–6 h intervals. After ovariectomy all follicles ≥ 5 mm were measured and follicular fluid was aspirated. Follicles were classified by size according to ultrasound (F1, largest; F2, second largest; F3, all remaining follicles ≥ 5 mm) and by the ratio of oestradiol:progesterone concentrations. During the follicular phase, a single dominant oestrogen-active follicle increased in diameter while serum concentrations of LH increased and FSH decreased (P < 0.05). On day 1 (after LH surge, preovulation), serum LH and FSH decreased to pre-surge concentrations (P < 0.0001), while follicle size and intrafollicular progesterone concentration increased and oestradiol concentration decreased (P < 0.05). A dominant nonovulatory follicle, classified as oestrogen-active on days 1, 3 and 6 and oestrogen-inactive on day 12, increased in size from day 1 to day 7 and lost dominance during days 10–12, coincident with the growth of multiple oestrogen-active follicles. The serum FSH concentration increased transiently (P < 0.05) before each new wave of dominant follicular growth. The overall correlation of ultrasound measurements of follicle diameter with measures of follicle size after ovariectomy was high. The ratio of oestradiol:progesterone concentrations, but not of size, reliably distinguished potential dominant from atretic follicles. The size of the follicle and the oestradiol concentration were not determinants of subsequent dominance during a selection phase. We conclude that: (1) ovarian follicles go through selection, dominance and atresia phases coincident with transient increases and decreases in FSH; and (2) ultrasound is an accurate measure of follicle growth, but that size alone is not a sufficient measure to ascribe dominance and both ultrasound and the intrafollicular ratio of oestradiol:progesterone concentrations are needed to monitor selection, dominance and atresia of follicles accurately.

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B. F. King, J. H. Britt, K. L. Esbenshade, W. L. Flowers and J. J. Ireland

The aim of this study was to determine whether immunoneutralization of inhibin altered compensatory ovarian hypertrophy. Crossbred postpubertal gilts actively immunized with a synthetic bovine inhibin peptide fragment (bINH) conjugated to human alpha globulins (HAG, n = 4 gilts) or HAG alone (control; n = 5) were unilaterally ovariectomized at mid-cycle. After unilateral ovariectomy, the remaining ovary was removed between day 8 and day 12 of the subsequent oestrous cycle. The number of corpora lutea per ovary was determined at each ovariectomy. Blood samples were collected at frequent intervals beginning 1 h before and continuing until the first oestrus after unilateral ovariectomy, and serum concentrations of FSH, LH, progesterone and oestradiol were determined. Inhibin antibody titres were estimated from the percentage of125I-labelled bINH bound to serum diluted 1:4000. At unilateral ovariectomy, the number of corpora lutea per ovary was similar for bINH:HAG-immunized and control gilts (8.6 ±0.7 versus 7.6 ± 0.6). During the next oestrous cycle after unilateral ovariectomy, the number of corpora lutea on each remaining ovary had doubled (P < 0.05) in controls compared with the number of corpora lutea per ovary in the previous cycle. In contrast, the number of corpora lutea remained unchanged in bINH:HAG-immunized gilts. Titre of anti-inhibin antibodies in bINH:HAG-immunized gilts was 9 ± 1% at unilateral ovariectomy compared with 0% for controls. Alterations in serum concentrations of hormones after unilateral ovariectomy did not differ between treatment groups. Compensatory ovarian hypertrophy was blocked after unilateral ovariectomy in immunized gilts independent of alterations in serum hormones, duration of oestrous cycle, or normal ovulation rate per ovary. Thus, it is concluded that inhibin or inhibin α subunits are positive local stimulators of compensatory ovarian hypertrophy in postpubertal gilts.

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F Mossa, F Jimenez-Krassel, J K Folger, J L H Ireland, G W Smith, P Lonergan, A C O Evans and J J Ireland

Androgens have an important role in ovarian follicular growth and function, but circulating androgen concentrations are also associated with ovarian dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders in women. The extent and causes of the variation in androgen production in individuals, however, are unknown. Because thecal cells of follicles synthesize androstenedione and testosterone, variation in production of these androgens is hypothesized to be directly related to the inherently high variation in number of healthy growing follicles in ovaries of individuals. To test this hypothesis, we determined whether thecal CYP17A1 mRNA (codes for a cytochrome P450 enzyme involved in androgen synthesis), LH-induced thecal androstenedione production, androstenedione concentrations in follicular fluid, and circulating testosterone concentrations were lower in cattle with relatively low versus high number of follicles growing during follicular waves and whether ovariectomy reduced serum testosterone concentrations. Results demonstrated that cattle with a low follicle number had lower (P<0.05) abundance of CYP17A1 mRNA in thecal cells, reduced (P<0.01) capacity of thecal cells to produce androstenedione in response to LH, lower (P<0.01) androstenedione concentrations in ovulatory follicles, and lower (P<0.02) circulating testosterone concentrations during estrous cycles compared with animals with high follicle number. Also, serum testosterone in cattle with low or high follicle number was reduced by 63 and 70%, respectively, following ovariectomy. In conclusion, circulating androgen concentrations are lower in cattle with low versus high number of follicles growing during follicular waves, possibly because of a reduced responsiveness of thecal cells to LH.

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Claire Glister, Simon J Sunderland, Maurice P Boland, James J Ireland and Phil G Knight

Five isoforms of follistatin (FST) (Mr 31, 33, 35, 37, and 41 kDa) were purified from bovine follicular fluid (bFF). Comparison of their activin and heparan sulphate proteoglycan (HSP) binding properties and biopotencies in the neutralisation of activin A action in vitro revealed that all five isoforms bound activin A, but they did so with different affinities. Only the 31 kDa isoform (FST-288) bound to HSP. FST-288 also showed the greatest biopotency, and the 35 and 41 kDa isoforms were the least potent. To determine whether bovine follicle development is associated with changing intrafollicular FST and activin profiles, we analysed bFF from dominant follicles (DFs) and subordinate follicles (SF) collected at strategic times during a synchronised oestrous cycle. Total FST, activin A and activin AB were measured by immunoassay, whereas individual FST isoforms were quantified by immunoblotting. Follicle diameter was positively correlated with oestrogen:progesterone ratio (r=0.56) in bFF but negatively correlated with activin A (r=−0.34), activin AB (r=−0.80) and ‘total’ FST (r=−0.70) levels. Follicle diameter was positively correlated with the abundance of the 41 kDa isoform (r=0.59) but negatively correlated with the abundance of the 33 and 31 kDa isoforms (r=−0.56 and r=−0.41 respectively). Both follicle statuses (DF and SF) and cycle stage affected total FST, activin A and activin B levels, whereas follicle status, but not cycle stage, affected the abundance of the 41, 37, 33 and 31 kDa FST isoforms. Collectively, these findings indicate that intrafollicular FST isoforms, which differ in their ability to bind and neutralise activins and to associate with cell-surface proteoglycans, show divergent changes during follicle development. Enhanced FST production may play an important negative role, either directly or via the inhibition of the positive effects of activins, on follicle growth and function during follicular waves.

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Qinglei Li, Fermin Jimenez-Krassel, Yasuhiro Kobayashi, James J Ireland and George W Smith

A growing body of evidence supports an obligatory role for intrafollicular prostanoids in the mechanism of ovulation. However, the prostanoid-dependent mediators of the follicular extracellular matrix degradation required for ovulation are unknown. The objectives of this study were to determine the cellular compartment(s) in which the gonadotropin surge-induced regulation of select extracellular matrix degrading enzymes and their cognate inhibitors occurs in bovine preovulatory follicles, and to test whether such regulation is blocked by intrafollicular administration of the prostanoid synthesis and ovulation inhibitor, indomethacin (INDO). Follicular fluid prostaglandin E2 concentrations were elevated in diluent-treated follicles before ovulation (24 h after GnRH injection), but the increase was blocked in INDO-treated follicles. Real-time PCR analysis revealed the specific follicular cell types where gonadotropin surge-induced increases in mRNA abundance for members of the matrix metalloproteinase/tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase and plasminogen activator families occurred. INDO treatment increased thecal cell mRNA for tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-4 and its protein abundance in the apex of preovulatory follicles before ovulation, but suppressed granulosal cell mRNA and activity for tissue plasminogen activator in follicular fluid and the follicle apex. Plasmin activity was also suppressed in the follicular fluid of INDO-treated follicles. Effects of INDO injection on select matrix metalloproteinases were not observed. The results suggest that gonadotropin surge-induced regulation of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-4 and tissue plasminogen activator may be prostanoid dependent, and support a potential role for increased tissue plasminogen activator expression and decreased tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-4 expression in the mechanism of ovulation.

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Qinglei Li, Fermin Jimenez-Krassel, James J Ireland and George W Smith

The molecular mechanisms of ovulation and luteinization have not been well established, partially due to lack of a comprehensive understanding of functionally significant genes up-regulated in response to an ovulatory stimulus and the signaling pathways involved. In the present study, transcripts increased in bovine preovulatory follicles following a GnRH-induced LH surge were identified using microarray technology. Increased expression of 368 and 878 genes was detected at 12 (368 genes) and 20 h (878 genes) following GnRH injection. The temporal, cell specific and prostanoid-dependent regulation of selected genes (ADAM10, DBI, CD36, MTSS1, TFG, and RABGAP1) identified from microarray studies and related genes (ADAM17 and AREG) of potential significance were also investigated. Expression of mRNA for DBI and CD36 was simultaneously up-regulated in theca and granulosa cells (GC) following the LH surge, whereas temporal regulation of ADAM10, MTSS1, TFG, and RABGAP1 was distinct in the two cell compartments and increased granulosa TFG and RABGAP1 mRNA were prostanoid dependent. AREG mRNA was increased in theca and GCs at 12 and 24 h following GnRH injection. ADAM17 mRNA was increased in theca, but reduced in GCs 24 h following GnRH injection. The increased ADAM17 and AREG mRNA were prostanoid dependent. ADAM10 and ADAM17 protein were increased specifically in the apex but not the base of preovulatory follicles and the increase in ADAM17 was prostanoid dependent. Results reveal novel information on the regulation of preovulatory gene expression and suggest a potential functional role for ADAM10 and ADAM17 proteins in the region of follicle rupture.

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Osman V Patel, Anilkumar Bettegowda, James J Ireland, Paul M Coussens, Patrick Lonergan and George W Smith

Poor oocyte competence contributes to infertility in humans and livestock species. The molecular characteristics of such oocytes are generally unknown. Objectives of the present studies were to identify differences in RNA transcript abundance in oocytes and early embryos associated with reduced oocyte competence and development to the blastocyst stage. Microarray experiments were conducted using RNA isolated from germinal vesicle stage oocytes collected from adult versus prepubertal animals (model of poor oocyte competence). A total of 193 genes displaying greater mRNA abundance in adult oocytes and 223 genes displaying greater mRNA abundance in prepubertal oocytes were detected. Subsequent gene ontology analysis of microarray data revealed significant overrepresentation of transcripts encoding for genes in hormone secretion classification within adult oocytes and such genes were selected for further analysis. Real-time PCR experiments revealed greater abundance of mRNA for βA and βB subunits of inhibin/activin and follistatin, but not the α subunit in germinal vesicle stage oocytes collected from adult versus prepubertal animals. Cumulus cell follistatin and βB subunit mRNA abundance were similar in samples collected from prepubertal versus adult animals. A positive association between time of first cleavage (oocyte competence) and follistatin mRNA abundance was noted. Follistatin, βB, and α subunit mRNAs were temporally regulated during early bovine embryogenesis and peaked at the 16-cell stage. Collectively, results demonstrate a positive association of follistatin mRNA abundance with oocyte competence in two distinct models and dynamic regulation of follistatin, βB, and α subunit mRNAs in early embryos after initiation of transcription from the embryonic genome.

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F Mossa, F Jimenez-Krassel, D Scheetz, M Weber-Nielsen, A C O Evans and J J Ireland

A reliable, easy to assess marker for fertility in agricultural species would be highly desirable and Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) is a promising candidate. This review summarizes recent findings concerning AMH and its role in fertility management, mainly in cattle. It focuses on (1) alterations in circulating AMH concentrations from birth to puberty and during estrous cycles; (2) correlation of circulating AMH concentrations with ovarian follicle numbers and ovarian reserve; (3) factors that impact circulating AMH concentrations; (4) use of AMH as a predictor of fertility. Circulating AMH concentrations can be easily and reliably measured with a single blood sample in adult cattle because AMH varies minimally during the estrous cycle and is repeatable across multiple cycles. Circulating AMH concentrations are positively associated with several measures of fertility. Dairy heifers with low compared with higher AMH concentrations subsequently had lower pregnancy rates, higher probability of being culled after birth of their first calf and shorter herd longevity. Also, AMH is predictive of response to superovulation in cattle and sheep. Several factors contribute to the variability in AMH concentrations among individuals; for example, beef cattle have higher AMH than dairy cattle. Nutritional imbalances, disease and endocrine disruptors during fetal life may negatively program the size of the ovarian reserve and consequently serum AMH concentrations and potential fertility in adulthood. We conclude that AMH may be a predictor of fertility and herd longevity in cattle, whereas in sheep and other farm species, the potential association between AMH and reproductive performance remains largely unexplored.

Free Italian abstract: An Italian translation of this abstract is freely available at http://www.reproduction-online.org/content/154/1/R1/suppl/DC1

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Lisa F Stinson, Demelza J Ireland, Matthew W Kemp, Matthew S Payne, Sarah J Stock, John P Newnham and Jeffrey A Keelan

Intrauterine infection and inflammation are responsible for the majority of early (<32 weeks) spontaneous preterm births (PTBs). Anti-inflammatory agents, delivered intra-amniotically together with antibiotics, may be an effective strategy for preventing PTB. In this study, the effects of four cytokine-suppressive anti-inflammatory drugs (CSAIDs: N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), SB239063, TPCA-1 and NEMO binding domain inhibitor (NBDI)) were assessed on human and ovine gestational membrane inflammation. Full-thickness membranes were collected from healthy, term, human placentas delivered by Caesarean section (n=5). Using a Transwell model, they were stimulated ex vivo with γ-irradiation-killed Escherichia coli applied to the amniotic face. Membranes from near-term, ovine placentas were stimulated in utero with lipopolysaccharide, Ureaplasma parvum or saline control and subjected to explant culture. The effects of treatment with CSAIDs or vehicle (1% DMSO) on accumulation of PGE2 and cytokines (human interleukin 6 (IL6), IL10 and TNFα; ovine IL8 (oIL8)) were assessed in conditioned media at various time points (3–20 h). In human membranes, the IKKβ inhibitor TPCA-1 (7 μM) and p38 MAPK inhibitor SB239063 (20 μM) administered to the amniotic compartment were the most effective in inhibiting accumulation of cytokines and PGE2 in the fetal compartment. NAC (10 mM) inhibited accumulation of PGE2 and IL10 only; NBDI (10 μM) had no significant effect. In addition to the fetal compartment, SB239063 also exerted consistent and significant inhibitory effects in the maternal compartment. TPCA-1 and SB239063 suppressed oIL8 production, while all CSAIDs tested suppressed ovine PGE2 production. These results support the further investigation of intra-amniotically delivered CSAIDs for the prevention of inflammation-mediated PTB.