Low progesterone concentrations and diminished ovarian reserves (total number of healthy oocytes) during reproductive cycles are linked to infertility in single-ovulating species like cattle. However, the extent and mechanisms whereby the inherently high variation in ovarian reserves may negatively affect progesterone production are unknown. Cattle were chosen to address these questions because the size of their ovarian reserves can be predicted based on an antral follicle count (AFC) during follicular waves. The present study determined if progesterone concentrations, differentiation and function of the corpus luteum (CL), and endometrial thickness differed during reproductive cycles of age-matched healthy young adult cattle with low versus high AFC during follicular waves. The results showed that, despite enhanced LH secretion, progesterone concentrations were lower during estrous cycles for animals with low versus high AFC. Animals with low versus high AFC also had a decreased basal, LH-, and 25-hydroxycholesterol-induced capacity of luteal and granulosal cells to produce progesterone, reduced amounts of STAR and mRNAs for STAR and LH receptor in the CL, and no change in endometrial thickness during estrous cycles. Taken together, these results 1) supported the conclusion that high variation in ovarian reserves of young adults is associated with alterations in differentiation and function of the CL and 2) provided insight into the potential factors that may cause suboptimal luteal function (e.g., heightened LH secretion and desensitization of the LH receptor, diminished LH responsiveness, diminished STAR, inherent deficiency in capacity of granulosal cells to undergo luteinization) and infertility (e.g., low progesterone, poor endometrial growth) in individuals with diminished ovarian reserves.
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Vol. 80 • No. 6