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Reproduction. 2002 May;123(5):729-33.

Seasonal changes in testicular size and serum LH, prolactin and testosterone concentrations in male polar bears (Ursus maritimus).

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Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana 61801, USA.


Little is known about the reproductive endocrinology of the male polar bear, Ursus maritimus, except that serum testosterone concentrations are high in April and May during the mating season and are low from August to November during the non-mating season. The objective of this study was to describe the relationship between seasonal changes in testicular size and serum concentrations of testosterone, LH and prolactin. Blood samples and testicular measurements were obtained from free-ranging male polar bears in Canada in April (n = 5) and May (n = 15) near Resolute Bay, Northwest Territories and near Churchill, Manitoba in July (n = 15) and October (n = 22). Testis size was greater in May (39.4 +/- 3.5 cm(2)) than in October (27.3 +/- 2.0 cm(2)) (P = 0.002). Serum testosterone concentrations were approximately three-fold higher in April (5.8 +/- 0.8 ng ml(-1)) than in May (1.7 +/- 0.5 ng ml(-1)), July (0.6 +/- 0.2 ng ml(-1)) and October (1.1 +/- 0.2 ng ml(-1)). Similarly, serum LH concentrations were high in April (0.14 +/- 0.04 ng ml(-1)) and low in May (0.09 +/- 0.01 ng ml(-1)), July (0.10 +/- 0.02 ng ml(-1)) and October (0.08 +/- 0.00 ng ml(-1)). Serum prolactin concentrations were high in April (1.9 +/- 0.3 ng ml(-1)), highest in May (2.5 +/- 0.2 ng ml(-1)), lower in July (1.3 +/- 0.1 ng ml(-1)) and lowest in October (0.8 +/- 0.07 ng ml(-1)). The present study demonstrates a positive relationship between testicular size and serum concentrations of LH, prolactin and testosterone in the male polar bear and confirms the previously reported seasonal changes in serum testosterone concentrations. Data from the present study provide important baseline and comparative endocrine information that can be used to aid captive breeding programmes in zoos and to further ecological-behavioural studies of polar bears.

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