'Hamster-like' cycles in testicular size in the absence of gonadotrophin secretion in HPD rams exposed to long-term changes in photoperiod and treatment with melatonin

G. A. Lincoln, I. J. Clarke, T. Sweeney

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Long term changes in the secretion of FSH, LH and testosterone, and the size of the testis were measured in groups of hypothalamopituitary disconnected Soay rams (HPD rams, n = 8) and control Soay rams (HPD-sham operated and unoperated, total n = 8) while exposed to an artificial lighting regimen of alternating 16-weekly periods of long days (16L:8D) and short days (8L:16D), and when treated with a constant-release implant of melatonin given under long days (total study: 136 weeks). Short term provocation tests using NMDA (glutamate receptor agonist), GnRH and LH were used to assess functionality of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and testis, respectively. Control rams expressed normal photoperiod-induced cycles in the reproductive axis. Blood concentrations of FSH, LH and testosterone were significantly increased under short days, and decreased under long days with parallel changes in testicular diameter. Treatment with implants of melatonin under long days mimicked the effect of short days and induced rapid reactivation of the reproductive axis. In the HPD rams the blood concentrations of FSH, LH and testosterone declined immediately after the HPD surgery and values remained close to the lower limit of detection of the radioimmunoassays throughout the experiment. LH pulses were absent in the HPD rams and NMDA failed to induce LH secretion consistent with functional disconnection of the pituitary gland from the hypothalamus. The testes regressed to a significantly smaller size in the HPD rams compared with controls even at the nadir of the sexual cycle (testis diameter: 30.2 ± 0.7 vs 41.3 ± 0.8 mm, HPD vs control rams, respectively). A low amplitude cycle in testicular diameter (peak to nadir: 5.0 ± 0.7 mm) persisted in the HPD rams with a temporal pattern opposite to the controls (growth under long days instead of short days; 'hamster-like'), In the HPD rams, the treatment with melatonin blocked the long day-associated increase in testicular size, without effects on FSH, LH and testosterone secretion, pituitary responsiveness to GnRH (LH increment) or testicular responsiveness to LH (testosterone increment). This was in contrast to the cyclical changes in all parameters induced by melatonin in the control rams. At post-mortem, the reproductive tract in HPD rams was markedly regressed compared with the controls, The efficiency of spermatogenesis was reduced with few germ cells maturing beyond primary spermatocytes. Immunocytochemical staining, however, revealed the maintenance of androgen receptor expression in Sertoli cells, peritubular cells and Leydig cells, and steroid activity as measured by 17α-hydroxylase expression in Leydig cells. Overall, the absence of photoperiod-induced changes in gonadotrophin secretion in the HPD rams illustrates the dependence on regulation by the hypothalamus, presumably through the secretion of GnRH. The residual cycle in the size of the testes in the HPD rams was closely correlated with the photoperiod-induced changes in prolactin secretion which persisted in these animals (summary of previous published data included). The combined results support the view that melatonin acts in the hypothalamus to mediate effects of photoperiod on gonadotrophin secretion and in the pituitary gland to mediate effects on prolactin secretion (dual site hypothesis), and that FSH, LH and prolactin act synergistically to regulate the long-term cycle in testicular activity in the ram.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)855-866
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Daylength
  • Gonadotrophins
  • Hypothalamus
  • Melatonin
  • Prolactin
  • Sheep
  • Testis

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