Melatonin treatment of embryo donor and recipient ewes during anestrus affects their endocrine status, but not ovulation rate, embryo survival or pregnancy

T. G. McEvoy*, J. J. Robinson, R. P. Aitken, I. S. Robertson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Thirty-two Border Leicester x Scottish Blackface ewes that lambed in March were individually penned with their lambs from April 16th and given daily an oral dose of 3 mg melatonin at 1500 h (Group M). A further 32 acted as controls (Group C). Within each group half were used as embryo donors (Group D) following superovulation and half received embryos (Group R) following an induced estrus. Prior to weaning on 21 May ewes received ad libitum a complete diet providing 9 megajoules (MJ) of metabolizable energy and 125 g/kg crude protein. Thereafter each received 1.6 kg of the diet daily. In early June each ewe received an intravaginal device (300 mg progesterone) inserted for 12 d. Donors were superovulated with 4 im injections of porcine FSH 12 h apart, commencing 24 h before progesterone withdrawal. Ovulation in recipients was induced with 800 IU PMSG injected im at progesterone removal. Donor ewes were inseminated 52 h after progesterone withdrawal. Embryos were collected 4 d later and transferred to recipients. Melatonin suppressed plasma prolactin (P<0.001) and advanced estrus (P<0.05) and timing of the LH peak (P<0.05). These events also occurred earlier in donors than in recipients (P<0.01). Mean (±SEM) ovulation rates for melatonin-treated and control donors were 5.5±0.71 and 4.7±0.66, respectively (NS). Corresponding recipient values were 3.3±0.40 and 3.4±0.39 (NS). Mean (±SEM) embryo yields were 2.9±0.64 and 2.6±0.73 for melatonin-treated (n=15) and control (n=16) donors, respectively, and for the 12 ewes per treatment that supplied embryos, corresponding numbers classified as viable were 2.7±0.47 and 2.3±0.61 (NS). Following transfer, 57% of embryos developed to lambs when both donor and recipient received melatonin, 86% when only the donor received melatonin, 91% when only the recipient received melatonin, and 67% when neither received melatonin (NS). Thus, embryo survival following transfer was not improved by treating recipients with melatonin. Gestation length and lamb birthweights were unaffected by melatonin. Unlike nonpregnant control ewes, melatonin-treated recipients that failed to remain pregnant sustained estrous cyclicity following embryo transfer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)943-955
Number of pages13
Issue number5
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Apr 1998


  • Embryo survival
  • Melatonin
  • Ovulation rate
  • Pregnancy
  • Sheep


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