We studied the impact of prenatal androgen exposure on the timing of onset of puberty, maintenance of cyclicity in the first breeding season, and the LH surge mechanism in female sheep. Pregnant sheep were injected with testosterone propionate (100 mg i.m.) twice each week from Day 30 to Day 90 (D30–90) or from Day 60 to Day 90 (D60–90) of gestation (term = 147 days). Concentrations of plasma progesterone and gonadotropins were measured in blood samples collected twice each week from control (n = 10), D60–90 (n = 13), and D30–90 (n = 3) animals. Rate of weight gain and initiation of estrous behavior were also monitored. After the first breeding season, when the animals entered anestrus, competency of the gonadotropin surge system to respond to estradiol positive feedback was tested in the absence or presence of progesterone priming for 12 days. Prenatally androgenized females had similar body weight gain and achieved puberty (start of first progestogenic cycle) at the same time as controls. Duration of the breeding season and the number of cycles that occurred during the first breeding season were similar between control and prenatally androgenized sheep. In contrast, prenatal exposure to androgens compromised the positive feedback effects of estradiol. Onset of LH/FSH surges following the estradiol stimulus was delayed in both groups of androgenized ewes compared with the controls in both the absence and presence of progesterone priming. In addition, the magnitude of LH and FSH surges in the two animals that surged in the D30–90 group were only one third and one half, respectively, of the magnitudes observed in the control and D60–90 groups. The present findings indicate that disruption of the surge system can account for the fertility problems that occur during adulthood in prenatally androgenized sheep.
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