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ARS Home » Plains Area » Clay Center, Nebraska » U.S. Meat Animal Research Center » Livestock Bio-Systems » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #348244

Research Project: Improving Livestock Production by Developing Reproductive and Precision Management Technologies

Location: Livestock Bio-Systems

Title: Current understanding of factors influencing antral follicle count and applications to reproductive management in cattle

item Cushman, Robert - Bob
item PERRY, GEORGE - South Dakota State University
item BRITT, JACK - North Carolina State University

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science Supplement
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/21/2017
Publication Date: 2/5/2018
Citation: Cushman, R.A., Perry, G.A., Britt, J.H. 2018. Current understanding of factors influencing antral follicle count and applications to reproductive management in cattle [abstract]. Journal of Animal Science. 96(Supplement 2):21-22.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: In recent years, an increasing amount of research has focused on variation in numbers of antral follicles in the bovine ovary. This measurement is used as a proxy for the number of microscopic primordial follicles in the ovaries (e.g., the ovarian reserve), because antral follicles can be visualized by ultrasonography and are correlated positively with the number of primordial follicles. Questions remain about whether number of antral follicles is predictive of fertility or reproductive longevity, about what genetic parameters are associated with this trait, and about how knowledge associated with this trait can be applied to improve reproductive management of cattle. Beef heifers with increased numbers of antral follicles at a pre-breeding examination give birth earlier in their first calving season. This suggests an association with reproductive longevity, because giving birth early as a heifer is associated with a longer herd life. It remains possible, however, that heifers with increased numbers of antral follicles are actually depleting their reserves more rapidly and will have a shorter reproductive life. Furthermore, there could be biological variation among females in rate of depletion of the ovarian reserve. Design of experiments to measure events occurring at the microscopic level is the greatest challenge to investigating rate of depletion of follicles. External factors such as age of dam and maternal nutrition during early pregnancy influence antral follicle numbers in heifers; however, there is considerable genetic control as well, because heritability of antral follicle count is moderate (0.25 to 0.49). This indicates that genetic selection could be applied to alter follicle number. Genomic correlation of antral follicle count with heifer pregnancy is unfavorable (-0.22 to -0.55), indicating that increased numbers of follicles impact fertility negatively in heifers. This directly contradicts phenotypic data, but implies that once we understand relationship to fertility we should be able to apply genomics to select for follicle reserve markers that benefit reproduction. Superovulatory response is correlated favorably with follicle number, but follicle number may be correlated unfavorably with response to synchronization protocols, because indirect evidence indicates that cows with increased numbers of follicles are less likely to exhibit estrus and conceive to fixed-time artificial insemination. Clearly, significant progress has been made over the last two decades in understanding how antral follicle number influences reproductive performance. Further investigation of the ovarian reserve will provide more applications to improve reproductive management in cattle.