The purpose of this study was to determine the occurrence of and the regulatory mechanisms involved in priming of the pituitary to GnRH before the preovulatory LH surge in sheep. Experiment 1: Forty-two ewes had progestagen devices removed after 14 days and were assigned to luteal (Lut) or follicular (Foll) groups. Fifteen days later, blood sampling was initiated either immediately or 36 h after induced luteolysis in groups Lut and Foll, respectively. After 4 h, ewes were administered either saline (n = 5) or 250 ng (n = 8) or 10 μg (n = 8) of GnRH. Five ewes per treatment group were killed 1 h later, while remaining animals were blood sampled for a further 7 h. Experiment 2: Eighteen ewes were allocated to Lut and Foll groups (described above). Blood samples were collected from 2 h before GnRH (10 μg) treatment until 7 h after. Despite up-regulated GnRH-R mRNA levels in Foll ewes, pituitary content and plasma levels of LH and LHβ mRNA levels were similar between groups. Mean FSHβ mRNA and plasma FSH levels were elevated in Lut ewes but declined after GnRH treatment. Inversely, plasma estradiol and inhibin-A concentrations were higher in Foll ewes and declined after GnRH treatment. Fewer LH ve/secretogranin II−ve (SgII−ve) granules were present in gonadotropes of Foll ewes, coincident with increased basal LH levels. Fewer smaller sized granules were present after GnRH treatment. In conclusion, there was no evidence of self-priming before onset of the preovulatory LH surge. Constitutive release of LH ve/SgII−ve granules may maintain basal LH levels while smaller sized, presumably mature granules may be preferentially released after GnRH stimulation.
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