Gonadotrophic control of follicular development and function during the oestrous cycle of the ewe

J Reprod Fertil Suppl. 1981;30:119-33.


In the adult non-pregnant ewe the secretion of FSH is sufficient to ensure a continuous growth and development of antral follicles to 3-5 mm size at all times. Further development and increased secretion of oestradiol through the final 72 h to ovulation depends on adequate stimulation by LH. During anoestrus and the luteal phase of the cycle LH pulses occur too infrequently to stimulate sufficient oestradiol to evoke an LH surge. Moreover, during the luteal phase progesterone secreted by the corpus luteum not only reduces the frequency of LH pulses but also inhibits the ability of oestrogen to evoke an LH surge. At the time of luteal regression the frequency of LH pulses increases to at least one per hour due to the fall in progesterone secretion. This change in pulse frequency of LH is associated with a decrease in the secretion of FSH, probably because of a direct inhibitory action of oestrogen on the anterior pituitary gland. The dominant follicle is probably relatively independent of circulating levels of FSH due to the high concentration of oestradiol and FSH within the microenvironment of the follicular cavity. Once the oestrogen secretion achieves a certain level a preovulatory surge of LH (and FSH) occurs. Increased sensitivity of the anterior pituitary to LH-RH and increased secretion of LH-RH from the hypothalamus both play a part in producing the LH surge. The rise in prolactin at this time probably reflects a decrease in hypothalamic dopamine turnover which is necessary for maximum release of LH-RH. The preovulatory LH surge initially stimulates and then totally inhibits further secretion of oestrogen and androgen from the ovulatory follicle. This suppression of steroid secretion is accompanied by a second peak of FSH at about the time of ovulation. The function of this second peak of FSH remains unknown although it may be responsible for the development of the large antral follicles which occur on Days 3 and 4. It is probably more important in those mammals like the rat and hamster which only form a functional corpus luteum if pregnancy occurs and in which oestrogen is necessary for implantation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / physiology
  • Animals
  • Corpus Luteum / physiology
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Estrus*
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / physiology
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology
  • Gonadotropins, Pituitary / physiology*
  • Luteinizing Hormone / physiology
  • Ovarian Follicle / physiology*
  • Ovulation
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / physiology
  • Prolactin / physiology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, FSH
  • Receptors, LH
  • Sheep / physiology*


  • Androgens
  • Gonadotropins, Pituitary
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, FSH
  • Receptors, LH
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • Prolactin
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone