Five experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that psychosocial stress interferes with the estrous cycle of sheep. In experiment 1, ewes were repeatedly isolated during the follicular phase. Timing, amplitude, and duration of the preovulatory luteinizing hormone (LH) surge were not affected. In experiment 2, follicular-phase ewes were subjected twice to a “layered stress” paradigm consisting of sequential, hourly application of isolation, restraint, blindfold, and predator cues. This reduced the LH pulse amplitude but did not affect the LH surge. In experiment 3, different acute stressors were given sequentially within the follicular phase: food denial plus unfamiliar noises and forced exercise, layered stress, exercise around midnight, and transportation. This, too, did not affect the LH surge. In experiment 4, variable acute psychosocial stress was given every 1–2 days for two entire estrous cycles; this did not disrupt any parameter of the cycle monitored. Lastly, experiment 5 examined whether the psychosocial stress paradigms of experiment 4 would disrupt the cycle and estrous behavior if sheep were metabolically stressed by chronic food restriction. Thirty percent of the food-restricted ewes exhibited deterioration of estrous cycle parameters followed by cessation of cycles and failure to express estrous behavior. However, disruption was not more evident in ewes that also encountered psychosocial stress. Collectively, these findings indicate the estrous cycle of sheep is remarkably resistant to disruption by acute bouts of psychosocial stress applied intermittently during either a single follicular phase or repeatedly over two estrous cycles.
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Vol. 82 • No. 6