Heifers were studied to determine whether computer-assisted quantitative echotexture analysis of ultrasound images reflect functional and endocrine characteristics of dominant and subordinate follicles at specific stages of development. Heifers were examined using transrectal ultrasonography each day until ovariectomy on day 3 (n = 8) and day 6 (n = 9) of wave 1, day 1 of wave 2 (n = 7), or after onset of pro-oestrus ≥ 17 days after ovulation (n = 8) to obtain growing, early-static, late-static and regressing dominant follicles of wave 1, subordinate follicles, preselection follicles and preovulatory dominant follicles. Ultrasound images of the follicles were obtained in vitro and analysed using custom-developed computer algorithms. Mean pixel (picture element) values (grey-scale: black = 0, white = 255) for the follicle wall and stroma increased (P < 0.05) progressively from the growing to the regressing phases of the dominant follicle of wave 1. The antrum and wall of subordinate follicles had higher (P < 0.05) mean pixel values than that of the corresponding dominant follicles. Pixel heterogeneity (a measure of variation of grey-scale values of pixels) of images of the follicle antrum and wall increased (P < 0.05) progressively during the early-static to regressing phases. A progressive increase (P < 0.05) in the slope of the regression line of pixel values for the follicle wall was detected from the growing to the regressing phases of the dominant follicle of wave 1. The regression line of the wall of the preovulatory dominant follicle had the lowest (P < 0.05) slope. Oestradiol concentration in the follicular fluid decreased (P < 0.05) from the growing to the late-static phase, while a marked decrease (P < 0.05) in the androstenedione concentration was recorded between the growing and the early-static phases of the dominant follicle. Progesterone content did not increase until follicles were in the final stages of regression. Pixel heterogeneity of the antrum and wall, and the slope of the follicle wall regression line were negatively correlated (P < 0.001) with oestradiol and the oestradiol:progesterone ratio in follicular fluid. The results of this study support the hypothesis that echotexture characteristics of ultrasound images of the follicle antrum and wall are correlated with the functional and endocrine status of a follicle.
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