The aim of this study was to examine the effect of removal of the largest follicle or all visible follicles during the first follicle wave on subsequent follicular growth, steroid, inhibin A and gonadotrophin secretion in sheep. On day 4.5 of a synchronized oestrous cycle, ewes (n = 18) were assigned to one of three groups which underwent either no treatment (control), ablation of the largest follicle (largest follicle aspirated and cauterized via laparotomy) or ablation of all follicles (all visible follicles ablated). Between day 0 and day 10 of the oestrous cycle, blood samples were collected every 8 h and ovaries were examined daily using transrectal ultrasonography. The lifespan of the second largest follicle (number of days > 3 mm in diameter) was longer (6.7 +/- 0.9 days; P < 0.05) and the maximum diameter tended to be greater (4.8 +/- 0.3 mm; P = 0.07) in ewes in which the largest follicle was ablated than in the control ewes (3.8 +/- 0.4 days; 4.2 +/- 0.3 mm). There was no difference in the day of emergence of the second follicular wave between groups (day 6.9 +/- 0.4). However, the peak of the transient increase in FSH concentrations after ablation was earlier (day 5.67 +/- 0.15; P < 0.05) in ewes in which all follicles were ablated than in control ewes (day 6.72 +/- 0.36); the timing in ewes that had only the largest follicle ablated was intermediate (day 6.11 +/- 0.28). Serum inhibin A concentrations were about three-fold lower (P < 0.05) in both follicle ablation groups than in the control group. The numbers of follicles 2-3 mm in diameter during the first 3 days of the second follicular wave were greater in 'ablated ewes' (both groups had 2.6 +/- 0.2 follicles day-1) than in control ewes (1.7 +/- 0.3 follicles day-1). It is concluded that: (i) transient increases in FSH concentrations precede the emergence of follicle waves; (ii) ablation of all follicles on day 4.5 after oestrus advanced the timing of the next peak in FSH concentrations and the numbers of small follicles associated with the development of the second follicular wave; and (iii) ablation of the largest follicle resulted in an increase in the lifespan of the second largest follicle, indicating a regulatory role of large dominant follicles over smaller subordinate follicles.
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