Sheep provide a valuable model for studying the genetic control of ovulation rate. Recent progress includes the identification of mutations in BMP15 (bone morphogenetic protein 15) that increase ovulation rate in heterozygous carriers and block follicular development in homozygous carriers. The genes characterized to date appear to act principally within the ovary and result in earlier maturity of granulosa cells and reduced follicular size. There may also be other sites of action, and increased FSH concentrations appear to be important in the expression of the FecB phenotype. A new locus on the X chromosome in New Zealand Coopworth sheep increases ovulation rate by about 0.4 and is maternally imprinted. Results from studies in the Cambridge and Belclare breeds indicate that further genes remain to be characterized. Finding the first mutations leading directly to variation in ovulation rate is likely to speed up the identification and molecular analysis of these other genes. There is still much to learn about follicular development and the control of litter size from genetic models in sheep.
GW Montgomery, SM Galloway, GH Davis, and KP McNatty
BJ McLeod, LM Meikle, MW Fisher, TR Manley, DA Heath, and KP McNatty
The aim of this study was to quantify antral follicle populations in cyclic red deer hinds and to monitor follicle development leading to ovulation. Oestrus was synchronized with exogenous progesterone and ovaries were recovered approximately 0, 12, 24 or 36 h (follicular phase) or 10 days (luteal phase) after progesterone withdrawal (n = 5 per group). All follicles > or = 2 mm in diameter were dissected out, health status was assessed, follicular fluid oestradiol content was measured, granulosa cells were harvested and their capacity for oestradiol and cAMP production was determined. The time of oestrus and the preovulatory LH surge were monitored in five control hinds. Deer ovaries contained 26.6 +/- 3.45 (mean +/- SEM) follicles > or = 2 mm in diameter (range 4-81), with at least one large antral follicle (diameter: 8.3 +/- 0.38 mm) per hind. There was a strong correlation between follicle size and granulosa cell population (r(2) = 0.676). Approximately half (50.7%) of the follicles were classified as healthy, with the percentage classified as atretic decreasing with increasing follicle size. Neither the total number of antral follicles nor their size distribution differed significantly among groups. There were significantly more (P < 0.05) healthy follicles at 24 h after progesterone withdrawal than at 0 h, when large oestrogenic follicles had fewer granulosa cells, lower follicular fluid oestradiol concentrations and lower aromatase activity (P < 0.05) than did those from other groups. In summary, antral follicle development in red deer is similar to that in other monovulatory ruminants, and at least one large follicle is present at all stages of the oestrous cycle.