Progesterone was used to reduce LH concentrations starting at the time when the largest follicle was > or = 5.7 mm in diameter or well before the expected start of follicle deviation (largest follicle > or = 8.5 mm in diameter). Plasma concentrations of LH, FSH and oestradiol were determined at 4 h intervals in control and progesterone-treated heifers (n = 8 per group). Concentrations of LH were lower (P < 0.05) in the progesterone-treated group, reflecting an absence of the transient increase in LH concentrations that encompasses follicle deviation. An increase in oestradiol and a continued decrease in FSH occurred at the start of follicle deviation in the control cows but not in the treated heifers. In a second experiment, follicular fluid of the two largest follicles of control and progesterone-treated heifers was sampled at the expected start of deviation (n = 8--10 per group). The concentrations of oestradiol, but not androstenedione and free insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), in follicular fluid were higher (P < 0.001) in the largest follicle than in the second largest follicle. Progesterone treatment reduced (P < or = 0.02) the concentrations of all three factors in follicular fluid and increased (P < 0.05) the concentrations of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 2 (IGFBP-2). These results confirm that oestradiol contributes to the continued decrease in FSH concentrations after the start of follicle deviation. Prevention of the transient LH increase, the oestradiol increase and the continued FSH decrease did not significantly alter the mean time or follicle diameters characteristic of expected follicle deviation. However, in some treated individuals (three of eight), the observed follicle deviation was delayed. In addition, these results indicate that the secretion of oestradiol into the circulation and the increase in oestradiol and IGF-I and decrease in IGFBP-2 concentrations in the follicular fluid at the start of deviation are functions of the transient increase in LH concentrations that encompasses follicle deviation.
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