Progestagens are widely used to synchronise oestrous in sheep but the effects on follicular dynamics are not clear. We tested the hypothesis that when luteolysis occurs early during progestagen synchronisation prolonged growth of the ovulatory follicle will occur. Cyclic ewe lambs (40.0+/-0.3 kg) were divided into three groups: eight ewes (Long group) received a progestagen sponge (60 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate) from Days 5 to 19 after oestrous and eight ewes (Short group) received a progestagen sponge on Day 5 which was replaced on Day 10 and again on Day 15, and removed on Day 19 after oestrous. On Days 6 and 7, ewes in both groups received prostaglandin. A third group (n=5, Control) did not receive any treatment. The growth and development of follicles > or =2 mm in diameter were characterised using daily transrectal ultrasonography. On Day 18, blood samples were collected every 12 min for 8 h from five ewes in the Long and Short groups. Data were analysed by ANOVA. The maximum diameter and age (emergence to ovulation) of the ovulatory follicle was greater (P<0.01) in ewes in the Long group (7. 4+/-0.2 mm and 12.1+/-0.6 days) than in ewes in the Short group (6. 3+/-0.2 mm and 5.1+/-0.5 days) and Control group (6.3+/-0.4 mm and 6. 8+/-0.6 days). On Day 18 of the cycle, LH pulse frequency and oestradiol concentrations were greater (P<0.05) in ewes in the Long group (3.2+/-1.1 pulse per 8 h and 1.15+/-0.09 pg ml(-1)) than the Short group (0.8+/-0.4 pulses per 8 h and 0.54+/-0.08 pg ml(-1)). We suggest that the negative feedback efficacy of a long-term progestagen sponge decreased with time and led to an increase in LH pulse frequency and prolonged growth of the ovulatory follicle. We conclude that, in the absence of luteal progesterone, synchronisation with a single progestagen sponge for 14 days resulted in higher LH pulse frequency and ovulation of a persistent follicle with a larger maximum diameter, compared with controls.
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