The aim was to characterize changes in the ultrasound characteristics of the CL and uterus in pregnant, inseminated nonpregnant, and cyclic beef heifers and to correlate findings with systemic progesterone (P4) concentrations with the intention of identifying possible markers for early identification of pregnancy. Heifers were randomly selected for artificial insemination after estrus synchronization. Ultrasound examinations of the CL and uterus were carried out by transrectal ultrasonography using a high-resolution ultrasound scanner equipped with a 12 MHz linear array probe on Days 7, 11, 14, 16, and 18 after artificial insemination (Day 0; i.e., estrus). Cross-sectional B-mode images of the CL were captured for calculation of CL tissue area and echotexture. Images of the CL and associated blood flow were captured and stored for analysis of luteal blood flow area and ratio. Longitudinal B-mode images of the uterine horns were captured just beyond the bifurcation of the uterine horns and stored for analysis of contrast and homogeneity (MaZda v4.6; Technical University of Lodz, Institute of Electronics, Poland). A total of three images were captured for each structure of interest. Serum concentrations of P4 were determined from blood samples collected at each ultrasound examination. After pregnancy diagnosis by ultrasound, heifers were retrospectively allocated as being pregnant (embryonic heartbeat on Day 28; n = 14) or nonpregnant (interestrous interval 18-21 days; n = 8) and their data were compared with noninseminated cyclic heifers (n = 10). Corpus luteum tissue area did not appear to change between pregnant, nonpregnant, or cyclic control groups between Days 7 and 18 (P > 0.05). No significant differences in CL echotexture characteristics were found between groups at any time point. There were no significant differences between pregnant, nonpregnant, and cyclic control groups for CL blood flow area (P > 0.05). However, CL blood flow ratio decreased significantly (P < 0.05) in both inseminated nonpregnant and cyclic heifers between Days 14 and 18, whereas it remained unchanged in pregnant heifers (P > 0.05). Uterine homogeneity was not significantly different between groups at any time point (P > 0.05). However, uterine contrast was significantly greater (P < 0.05) in pregnant compared with cyclic control heifers on Days 16 and 18. Concentrations of P4 were lower (P < 0.05) in nonpregnant and control heifers than in pregnant heifers from Days 16 to 18. In conclusion, there were differences between nonpregnant and cyclic heifers compared with pregnant heifers in P4 concentrations from Day 16. On Day 18, the CL and uterine characteristics were different between the nonpregnant and pregnant heifers. Ultrasound measures of CL blood flow and uterine echotexture may be useful to establish pregnancy status. Further investigation is required to identify if pregnancy diagnosis can be made on Day 18 or at a later day postpartum.
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