In sheep, the seasonal patterns of reproductive activity are driven primarily by the annual photoperiodic cycle, but can also respond to other environmental factors, such as nutrition, yet little is known about the mechanisms underlying this interaction. This study was designed to define the interaction between photoperiodic and nutritional cues on seasonal patterns of ovarian activity, and to determine if there is a central interaction between these cues. Groups of Ile-de-France ewes were maintained in two nutritional states (restricted and well fed) under a simulated annual photoperiod of 8–16 h of light per day over two breeding seasons. At the end of the first breeding season, half of the animals of each group were ovariectomized (OVX) and fitted subcutaneously with estradiol implants. Low nutritional status shortened the season of ovarian activity, determined from the pattern of progesterone concentrations, by modifying the timing of seasonal transitions between periods of ovarian activity and anestrus. The same results were observed for the seasonal rhythm of neuroendocrine activity, assessed in the OVX ewes, from the pattern of luteinizing hormone concentrations. These results were then confirmed for neuroendocrine activity induced by a photoperiodic treatment. We conclude that nutrition centrally modulates the interpretation of photoperiod to affect seasonal reproductive transitions. The mechanisms of this interaction are discussed in the paper.
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Vol. 86 • No. 2