Two experiments were conducted to examine circulating concentrations of progesterone (P4) in cows with ovarian follicular cysts (OFCs) and to relate differing levels of P4 to subsequent follicular events. In experiment 1, peripheral concentrations of P4 were determined in cows diagnosed with OFCs. Nonpregnant, lactating Holstein and Jersey cows (n = 32) were diagnosed as having OFCs by rectal palpation. Ovarian follicular cysts were then examined by transrectal ultrasonography to confirm the presence of OFCs (follicle diameter, ≥17 mm; absence of luteal tissue). At confirmation, a blood sample was collected for quantification of P4. The concentration of P4 at confirmation was classified as low (<0.1 ng/ml), intermediate (0.1–1.0 ng/ml), or high (1.0–2.0 ng/ml). More OFCs were associated with intermediate (66%) than with either low (28%) or high (6%) concentrations of P4. In experiment 2, the fate of follicles (diameter, ≥10 mm) that formed in the presence of an OFC was determined and related to circulating concentrations of P4 during follicular development. Follicles (n = 59) that formed in the presence of an OFC ovulated (n = 19), formed a cyst (n = 30), or underwent normal growth and regression (NGR; n = 10). Endogenous P4 in the 7-day period during follicular development was classified as low (if P4 dropped to <0.1 ng/ml for 1 day or longer), intermediate (if P4 averaged between 0.1 and 1.0 ng/ml and never dropped to <0.1 ng/ml), or high (if P4 averaged >1.0 ng/ml and never dropped to <0.1 ng/ml). In the presence of intermediate P4, 75% of observed follicles formed cysts, compared with 10% that ovulated and 15% that experienced NGR. In the presence of low P4, 53%, 41%, and 6% of follicles ovulated, formed a follicular cyst, or experienced NGR, respectively. Thus, an association between intermediate P4 and the formation of OFCs was established.
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