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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2004 Sep 15;138(3):263-70.

Species and fetal gender effects on the endocrinology of pregnancy in elephants.

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Department of Reproductive Sciences, Conservation and Research Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA.


Quantitative and temporal progestin profiles vary during gestation in the elephant, sometimes making it difficult to determine if a pregnancy is progressing normally. The aim of the present study was to determine if circulating progestin variability was related to species or fetal gender effects. A similar comparison also was conducted for secretory profiles of prolactin, relaxin, and cortisol. Overall mean progestin concentrations during gestation in Asian (n = 19) and African (n = 8) elephants were similar; however, the temporal profiles differed (P < 0.001). Concentrations were higher in African elephants during the first half of pregnancy, but then declined to levels below those observed in Asian elephants (P < 0.05). There also was a fetal gender effect in Asian, but not African elephants. Progestin concentrations were higher in Asian cows carrying male calves (n = 9) as compared to those carrying females (n = 10) (P < 0.001). Overall prolactin concentrations were higher in Asian than in African elephants between 8 and 15 months of gestation ( P< 0.001). There were no species differences in the secretory patterns of relaxin. Cortisol was relatively stable until the end of gestation when significant surges were observed, mainly between 8 and 11 days before parturition, and again on the day of birth. In sum, a comparison of progestin patterns between Asian and African elephants identified notable differences related to species and fetal gender. A role for cortisol in the initiation of parturition also was inferred from these data. From a practical standpoint, understanding the factors affecting gestational hormone characteristics and recognizing what the species differences are will help ensure that data used in diagnosing and monitoring elephant pregnancies are properly interpreted.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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