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Effects of exogenous melatonin on in vivo embryo viability and oocyte competence of undernourished ewes after weaning during the seasonal anestrus

Vázquez, M.I., Abecia, J.A., Forcada, F., Casao, A.
Theriogenology 2010 v.74 no.4 pp. 618-626
ewes, oocytes, postpartum period, restricted feeding, melatonin, embryo (animal), viability, anestrus, drug implants, embryogenesis, in vitro fertilization, ovulation, corpus luteum, blastocyst, cell cleavage
This study investigated the effects of exogenous melatonin on embryo viability and oocyte competence in post-partum undernourished ewes during the seasonal anestrus. At parturition (mid-Feb), 36 adult Rasa Aragonesa ewes were assigned to one of two groups: treated (+MEL) or not treated (−MEL) with a subcutaneous implant of melatonin (Melovine®, CEVA) on the day of lambing. After 45 d of suckling, lambs were weaned, ewes were synchronized using intravaginal pessaries, and fed to provide 1.5× (Control, C) or 0.5× (Low, L) times daily maintenance requirements. Thus, ewes were divided into four groups: C−MEL, C+MEL, L−MEL, and L+MEL. At estrus (Day=0), ewes were mated. At Day 5 after estrus, embryos were recovered by mid-ventral laparotomy and classified based on their developmental stage and morphology. After embryo collection, ovaries were recovered and oocytes were classified and selected for use in in vitro fertilization (IVF). Neither diet nor melatonin treatment had a significant effect on ovulation rate and on the number of ova recovered per ewe. Melatonin treatment significantly improved the number of fertilized embryos/corpus luteum (CL) (−MEL: 0.35 ± 0.1, +MEL: 0.62 ± 0.1; P = 0.08), number of viable embryos/CL (−MEL: 0.23 ± 0.1, +MEL: 0.62 ± 0.1; P < 0.01), viability rate (−MEL: 46.6%, +MEL: 83.9%; P < 0.05), and pregnancy rate (−MEL: 26.3%, +MEL: 76.5%; P < 0.05). In particular, exogenous melatonin improved embryo viability in undernourished ewes (L−MEL: 40%, L+MEL: 100%, P < 0.01). Neither nutrition nor exogenous melatonin treatments significantly influenced the competence of oocytes during IVF. Treatment groups did not differ significantly in the number of healthy oocytes used for IVF, number of cleaved embryos, or number of blastocysts and, consequently, the groups had similar cleavage and blastocyst rates. In conclusion, melatonin treatments improved ovine embryo viability during anestrus, particularly in undernourished post-partum ewes, although the effects of melatonin did not appear to be mediated at the oocyte competence level.