Psychosocial stress suppresses attractivity, proceptivity and pulsatile LH secretion in the ewe

Bree Naomi Pierce, Paul Hamilton Hemsworth, Elizabeth Therese Astrid Rivalland, Elizabeth R Wagenmaker, Adam Daniel Morrissey, Melissa Papargiris, Iain James Clarke, Fred J Karsch, Anne Isabella Turner, Alan John Tilbrook

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Various stressors suppress pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) in ewes and cortisol has been shown to be a mediator of this effect under various conditions. In contrast, little is known about the impact of stress and cortisol on sexual behavior in the ewe. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that both psychosocial stress and stress-like levels of cortisol will reduce the level of attractivity, proceptivity and receptivity in addition to suppressing LH secretion in the ewe. In Experiment 1, a layered stress paradigm of psychosocial stress was used, consisting of isolation for 4 h with the addition of restraint, blindfold and noise of a barking dog (predator stress) at hourly intervals. This stress paradigm reduced LH pulse amplitude in ovariectomized ewes. In Experiment 2, ovariectomized ewes were artificially induced into estrus with progesterone and estradiol benzoate treatment and the layered stress paradigm was applied. LH was measured and sexual behavior was assessed using T-mazes and mating tests. Stress reduced pulsatile LH secretion, and also reduced attractivity and proceptivity of ewes but had no effect on receptivity. In Experiment 3, ewes artificially induced into estrus were infused with cortisol for 30 h. Cortisol elevated circulating plasma concentrations of cortisol, delayed the onset of estrus and resulted in increased circling behavior of ewes (i.e. moderate avoidance) during estrus and increased investigation and courtship from rams. There was no effect of cortisol on attractivity, proceptivity or receptivity during estrus. We conclude that psychosocial stress inhibits LH secretion, the ability of ewes to attract rams (attractivity) and the motivation of ewes to seek rams and initiate mating (proceptivity), but cortisol is unlikely to be the principal mediator of these effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424 - 434
Number of pages11
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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