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Anim Reprod Sci. 2005 Sep;88(3-4):179-89.

Relationships between maternal hormone secretion and embryo development on day 5 of pregnancy in dairy cows.

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Division of Animal Physiology, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, Leicestershire, UK.


In cattle, increasing early embryonic losses are associated with inadequate progesterone concentrations within the first three weeks of pregnancy. The aim of this study was to investigate the complex relationship between early maternal progesterone concentration and embryo development early within the first week of pregnancy, specifically, on day 5 post-oestrus in dairy cows. Twenty Holstein-Friesian cows at the end of lactation were inseminated at oestrus (day 0) and on day 5 post-oestrus cows were slaughtered and the reproductive tract flushed to determine the presence and stage of embryo development. Three cows that had failed to synchronise correctly were excluded from analysis while in the remaining 17 cows 11 (65%) were pregnant with embryos at the morula (n = 3), 9-16 (n = 3) and 8-cell (n = 5) stages of development. No differences in day 5 plasma progesterone concentrations or corpus luteum (CL) size or progesterone content were observed between pregnant (n = 11) and non-pregnant (n = 6) cows. In cows with embryos beyond the 8-cell stage of development (n = 6) plasma progesterone concentration (P < 0.001) and CL weight (P < 0.01) were higher and plasma insulin concentrations lower (P < 0.001) than in cows with 8-cell embryos (n = 5). In addition there was a negative relationship between plasma progesterone and plasma insulin in pregnant cows (R(2) = 0.65; P < 0.005). In cows with an embryo present in the oviduct, oviductal glucose concentrations were lower (P < 0.05) than in cows with no embryo present. These results confirm progesterone is not only directly associated with embryo development, but that it may indirectly modulate embryo development via changes in the oviductal environment. In summary, the association between maternal progesterone concentration and embryo development exists as early as day 5 of pregnancy in dairy cows.

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