Importance of changing photoperiod and melatonin secretory pattern in determining the length of the breeding season in the Suffolk ewe

in Reproduction

Summary. Three groups of ovariectomized Suffolk ewes bearing s.c. Silastic implants of oestradiol were subjected to a 90-day priming treatment of an inhibitory long photoperiod (16 h light/day; 16L:8D). On Day 0 of the experiment, they were moved to stimulatory photoperiods. One control group was transferred to 12L:12D and a second control group was transferred to 8L:16D; both groups remained in those photoperiods to determine the timing of reproductive induction and refractoriness. The experimental group was transferred to 12L:12D on Day 0 and then to 8L:16D on Day 55 to determine whether the further reduction in daylength could delay the development of refractoriness. Reproductive neuroendocrine condition was monitored by serum concentrations of LH and FSH. Both gonadotrophins remained elevated for a longer period of time in the experimental group receiving the second reduction in daylength than in either control group, indicating that the second photoperiodic drop delayed the onset of photorefractoriness. Measurement of 24-h patterns of circulating melatonin suggests that the prolonged stimulation of reproductive neuroendocrine activity in the experimental group resulted from a lengthening of the nocturnal melatonin rise. These findings indicate that refractoriness to an inductive photoperiod can be temporarily overcome by exposure to a shorter daylength, and that the change in duration of the nocturnal increase in melatonin secretion is important in photoperiodic signalling. Thus, in natural conditions, the decreasing autumnal daylength, and the resulting expansion of the nocturnal elevation in melatonin secretion, may be utilized to produce a breeding season of normal duration.

Keywords: seasonal reproduction; photorefractoriness; melatonin; oestradiol negative feedback; photoperiodic history; sheep

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