The modulation of FSH secretion at the beginning and middle of the follicular phase of the cycle represents the key event in the growth and selection of the preovulatory follicle. However, the mechanisms that operate within the pituitary gland to control the increased release of FSH and its subsequent inhibition in vivo remain unclear. Treatment of ewes with bovine follicular fluid (bFF) during the luteal phase has been previously shown to suppress the plasma concentrations of FSH and, following cessation of treatment on day 11, a rebound release of FSH occurs on days 12 and 13. When luteal regression is induced on day 12, this hypersecretion of FSH results in an increase in follicle growth and ovulation rate. To investigate the mechanisms involved in the control of FSH secretion, ewes were treated with twice daily s.c. injections of 5 ml bFF on days 3–11 of the oestrous cycle and luteal regression was induced on day 12 with prostaglandin (PG). The treated ewes and their controls were then killed on day 11 (luteal), or 16 or 32h after PG and their pituitaries removed and halved. One half was analysed for gonadotrophin and gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) receptor content. Total pituitary RNA was extracted from the other half and subjected to Northern analysis using probes for FSH-β, LH-β and common α subunit. Frequent blood samples were taken and assayed for gonadotrophins. FSH secretion was significantly (P<0.01) reduced during bFF treatment throughout the luteal phase and then significantly (P<0.01) increased after cessation of treatment, with maximum secretion being reached 18– 22h after PG, and then declining towards control values by 32h after PG. A similar pattern of LH secretion was seen after bFF treatment. Pituitary FSH content was significantly (P<0.05) reduced by bFF treatment at all stages of the cycle. No difference in the pituitary LH content was seen. The increase in GnRH receptor content after PG in the controls was delayed in the treated animals. Analysis of pituitary mRNA levels revealed that bFF treatment significantly (P<0.01) reduced FSH-β mRNA levels in the luteal phase. Increased levels of FSH-β, LH-β and α subunit mRNA were seen 16h after PG in the bFF-treated animals, at the time when FSH and LH secretion from the pituitary was near maximum. These results suggest that the rebound release of FSH after treatment with bFF (as a source of inhibin) is related to a rapid increase in FSH-β mRNA, supporting the concept that the rate of FSH release is directly related to the rate of synthesis.
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