Postnatal development of the ovine uterus between birth and Postnatal Day (PND) 56 involves differentiation of the endometrial glandular epithelium from the luminal epithelium followed by tubulogenesis and branching morphogenesis. Previous results indicated that ovariectomy of ewes at birth did not affect uterine growth or initial stages of endometrial gland genesis on PND 14 but did affect uterine growth after PND 28. Available evidence from a number of species supports the hypothesis that the ovary does not affect endometrial gland morphogenesis in the postnatal uterus. To test this hypothesis in our sheep model, ewes were assigned at birth to a sham surgery as a control or bilateral ovariectomy (OVX) on PND 7. Uteri were removed and weighed on PND 56. Ovariectomy did not affect circulating levels of estradiol-17β. Uterine weight was 52% lower in OVX ewes. Histomorphological analyses indicated that the thickness of the endometrium and myometrium, total number of endometrial glands, and endometrial gland density in the stratum spongiosum stroma was reduced in uteri of OVX ewes. In contrast, the number of superficial ductal gland invaginations and gland density in the stratum compactum stroma was not affected by ovariectomy. The uteri of OVX ewes contained lower levels of βA subunit, activin receptor (ActR) type IA, ActRIB, and follistatin protein expression but higher levels of βB subunit. In the neonatal ovary, follistatin, inhibin α subunit, βA subunit, and βB subunit were expressed in antral follicles between PNDs 0 and 56. These results led to rejection of the hypothesis that the ovary does not influence endometrial adenogenesis. Rather, the ovary and, thus, an ovarian-derived factor regulates, in part, the coiling and branching morphogenetic stage of endometrial gland development after PND 14 and expression of specific components of the activin-follistatin system in the neonatal ovine uterus that appear to be important for that critical process.
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