The pattern of ovarian follicle development in maiden cyclic lambs was characterized using the definition of a follicle wave as the changes in the number of follicles among the days of the estrous cycle, as originally defined in cattle by Rajakoski in 1960. We also examined the steroid content relationships among follicles on Days 5 (Wave 1) and 14 (Waves 2 and 3) of the estrous cycle. In Experiment 1, the ovaries of 20 cyclic lambs (40 to 45 kg) were examined daily using transrectal ultrasonography for 1 or 2 estrous cycles (n = 31 cycles). The number of small (2 and 3 mm in diameter), medium (4 and 5 mm) and large (> or = 6 mm) follicles were aligned with the beginning and end of the average length estrous cycle and then compared among days. Identified follicles were defined as those that grew to > or = 4 mm and remained at > or = 3 mm for > or = 3 d. The number of identified follicles emerging (retrospectively identified at 2 or 3 mm) per ewe per day was also aligned with the average length estrous cycle. In Experiment 2, ewe lambs were ovariectomized on Day 5 (n = 6) or 14 (n = 5) of the estrous cycle, then follicle diameters and follicular fluid concentrations of estradiol and progesterone were compared among follicles. Data were analyzed by repeated measures ANOVA and compared among days using Fisher's LSD. In Experiment 1, either 2 (n = 10 cycles), 3 (n = 20 cycles) or 4 (n = 1 cycle) periods of emergence of identified follicles occurred during individual cycles, with estrous cycle lengths of 15.6 +/- 1.6, 16.1 +/- 1.1 and 17 d respectively. In animals with 2 or 3 periods of emergence of identified follicles, the total number of small, medium and large follicles differed (P < 0.05) among days of the estrous cycle showing a wave-like pattern. In Experiment 2, a single follicle collected on each of Days 5 and 14 of the cycle (6.2 +/- 0.2 and 3.9 +/- 0.2 mm in diameter) had a higher (P < 0.05) concentration of follicular fluid estradiol (36.2 +/- 4.4 and 50.9 +/- 21.6 ng/mL) than other follicles collected on the same day (next largest follicle: 4.3 +/- 0.3 and 3.5 +/- 0.4 mm; 4.3 +/- 0.9 and 18.2 +/- 6.7 ng/mL estradiol). The results showed that 1) there was a synchronous emergence of follicles associated with fluctuations in the number and size of follicles during the estrous cycle; 2) within a wave there was a hierarchy among follicles for diameter and steroid content; 3) ovarian follicle growth in ewe lambs occurred in 2 or 3 organized waves during the estrous cycle.
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