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M. Perret

Summary. Plasma progesterone concentrations were recorded during one breeding season in 19 lesser mouse lemur females living in different social conditions. The oestrous cycle length and the progesterone profile mainly depended on the social environment of the female. For totally isolated females, the oestrous cycle lasted 38 ± 5·7 days and included a 25–30-days spontaneous luteal phase with a progesterone peak about 100 ng/ml between the 20th and 25th days after oestrus, and a prolonged preovulatory period of 10–15 days which could be considered equivalent to the follicular phase of a menstrual cycle. When females were able to communicate through olfactory, visual and auditory signals, the oestrous cycle was significantly lengthened (53·7 ± 5·9 days). When females had tactile contacts, the oestrous cycle was further lengthened (62·7 ± 0·8 days). This lengthening of the oestrous cycle was related to an extension of the luteal phase associated with a decrease in progesterone concentrations during this period. In females maintained with one male (paired) or with males and females (heterosexually grouped), large individual variations were shown in cycle lengths or in progesterone concentrations. In these females, cycle lengths and progesterone concentrations were inversely correlated to plasma cortisol concentrations.

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M. Perret

Summary. In 6 isolated adult male lesser mouse lemurs, concentrations of testosterone in plasma were determinated at 6-h intervals over a 24-h period. Blood samples were collected at monthly intervals and for a period of 12 months under natural photoperiod. In this nocturnal prosimian, there were no apparent diurnal changes in testosterone concentrations during the non-breeding season (autumn). During seasonal sexual activity (January—August), diurnal changes in testosterone concentrations were characterized by a significant rise during the light phase. The daily testosterone peak occurred about 8·5 h after sunrise from February to July, but at the beginning (January) or at the end (August) of the breeding season, the daily testosterone peak was displaced to the morning. A circannual testosterone rhythm occurred with the highest testosterone values in May/June and the lowest values 6 months later. The dramatic fall in testosterone concentrations after the summer solstice may be associated with a change in the peripheral metabolism of testosterone.

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M. Perret and M. Atramentowicz

Summary. Plasma testosterone and progesterone concentrations were measured in captive woolly opossums, a didelphid marsupial originating from neotropical forests in French Guyana. Although not exposed to cyclic environmental conditions as in the field, both sexes exhibited spontaneous circannual changes in sexual hormones. Males showed synchronous variations in plasma testosterone characterized by significant elevated concentrations during April and September 8·6 ± 1 ng/ml, N = 5) and lower levels from May to July (3·6 ± 0·4 ng/ml). In females, synchronous periods of 2–3 successive oestrous cycles occurred. Between these periods, females remained acyclic. The oestrous cycle, determined by urogenital smears, lasted 28–45 days (n = 14) and included a 20-day spontaneous luteal phase in which progesterone concentrations reached 30–40 ng/ml plasma. Even though testosterone concentrations in paired males increased significantly in response to oestrous periods of the paired females, spontaneous circannual rhythms of sexual activity were not well synchronized between the sexes in captivity. When compared to field data, sexual activity of captive animals followed a pattern similar to that in wild animals, without any changes in males but with a delay of 3 months in females.

Keywords: reproduction; circannual cycles; progesterone; testosterone; woolly opossum

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M. Perret and S. Ben M'Barek

Summary. Plasma progesterone concentrations and the occurrence of oestrous cycles were studied in isolated woolly opossums subsequently subjected to male influences during a 40-day period. Pairing (N = 48) or exposure to male urine (N = 15) resulted in all females exhibiting oestrous during the stimulation phase, providing evidence that the activation of ovarian activity in the woolly opossum involves pheromonal cues from males. The latency of occurrence of oestrous in stimulated females depended upon their sexual state before male stimulation. In anoestrous females, the mean latency was 20·7 ± 0·9 days (N = 35), a value which agrees with the duration of the follicular phase. In females which first entered oestrous before male stimulation, the latency of induced oestrous was inversely correlated to the date of occurrence of the previous oestrous. The inter-oestrous interval was normal (38·1 ± 1 days, N = 5) when females were in oestrous at the beginning of male stimulation. In contrast, the inter-oestrous interval was significantly shortened (28·7 ± 2 days, N = 7) or lengthened (51·1 ± 1·7 days, N = 16) depending on whether females were in the luteal or follicular phases at the beginning of male stimulation. During pairing several females became pregnant and gave birth 24 ± 0·9 days (N = 13) after copulation.

In the woolly opossum, the response to male influences involves mechanisms similar to those observed in eutherians and results in enhancement and synchronization of oestrous cycles in females. Pheromonal interactions could play an important role in synchronizing oestrous cycles in wild females during the dry season, a period when animals regroup to feed on spatially localized food resources.

Keywords: male effect; pheromone; oestrous cycles; progesterone; marsupial

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H Aslam, A Schneiders, M Perret, GF Weinbauer and JK Hodges

Germ cell production and organization of the testicular epithelium in a prosimian species, the grey mouse lemur, Microcebus murinus, was investigated to extend knowledge of comparative primate spermatogenesis. In addition, semen samples collected from adult male lemurs (body weight 53-92 g; n = 16) by rectal probe electroejaculation were evaluated using computer-assisted morphometric and kinematic analysis of spermatozoa. Epididymidal spermatozoa were collected from six animals after hemicastration; the testes were weighed and prepared for stereological analysis and flow cytometry. The relative testis mass (as a percentage of body weight) ranged between 1.17 and 5.6%. Twelve stages of testicular seminiferous epithelium as described for macaques were applied and only a single stage was observed in most of the seminiferous tubule cross-sections. On average (mean SD), a single testis contained 1870 +/- 829 x 10(6) germ cells and 35 +/- 12 x 10(6) Sertoli cells. Germ cell ratios (preleptotene:type B spermatogonia = 2, round spermatid:pachytene = 3; elongated spermatid:round spermatids = 1) indicated high spermatogenic efficacy. Sperm head dimensions and tail lengths of the ejaculated and epididymidal spermatozoa were similar. Percentages of defects (neck/mid-piece and tail) were low ( 10%) and similar for ejaculated and epididymidal spermatozoa. Spermatozoa were highly motile, characterized by extensive lateral head displacement, but relatively low progressive motility. In conclusion, the grey mouse lemur has unusually large testes with a highly efficient spermatogenic process and large sperm output. These features, together with the high proportion of morphologically normal and highly motile spermatozoa in the ejaculates, indicate that Microcebus murinus is a species in which sperm competition after ejaculation is likely to occur. The predominantly single spermatogenic stage system seems to be an ancestral feature among primates.