Postnatal photoperiodic experience plays a pivotal role in determining the timing of ovarian activity in female lambs. This study examines whether a photoperiodic history gained while in utero is able to influence this timing. Pregnant Soay ewes were maintained in either long days (n = 7, 18 h light: 6 h dark; group PLD) or short clays (n = 12, 6 h light: 18 h dark; group PSD) from 25 days of gestation. At birth, female lambs (n = 8 per group) were transferred to long days for 10 weeks, and then placed under short days until the end of the experiment at 38 weeks of age. Blood samples were collected from lambs on the day of birth and three times weekly for the duration of the study and the resulting plasma assayed for progesterone and prolactin. Although both gestational photoperiods produced, at best, abbreviated periods of ovarian activity, lambs born to ewes which experienced long days during gestation (group PLD) exhibited elevated plasma progesterone concentrations significantly earlier (P < 0.05) than lambs born to ewes exposed to short days during gestation (group PSD) (mean ± SEM, 193 ± 17 versus 244 ± 14 days for PLD and PSD groups, respectively. Plasma prolactin concentrations in newborn lambs born between late December and early April were not affected by the ambient photoperiod, but reflected the artificial daylength experienced by their mothers during gestation. Lambs born to ewes maintained under long days during gestation (group PLD) had significantly higher prolactin concentrations on the day of birth than lambs born to ewes maintained under short days during gestation (group PSD) (45 ± 5.4 ng/ml versus 7 ± 3.7 ng/ml respectively, P < 0.001). The mean birth weight, rate of live weight gain and live body weight of lambs at the end of the experiment did not vary significantly between treatment groups. These results suggest that the urine foetus is sensitive to photoperiodic information prior to birth, and develops a photoperiodic history which, under the present experimental conditions, modulates the subsequent endocrine status of the neonatal lamb.
- Ovarian activity