Reproductive failure associated with heat stress is a well-known phenomenon. The mechanism involved in this failure is not clearly understood. In order to test a possible direct effect of heat stress on ovarian function, 36 White Leghorn laying hens were housed in individual cages in 2 temperature- and light-controlled rooms (n = 18). At 31 wk of age, one group was exposed daily for 12 h to high temperature (42 +/- 3 degrees C), and the second group was maintained under thermoneutral conditions (24 to 26 degrees C) and served as control. Body temperature, feed intake, egg production, and egg weight were recorded daily; heparinized blood samples were drawn every 3 d for plasma hormonal level of luteinizing hormone, follicular stimulating hormone, progesterone, 17beta-estradiol, and testosterone. Six days after exposure half of the birds in each group were killed, and the ovary and oviduct were weighed and preovulatory follicles removed and extracted for mRNA of Cytochrome P 450 aromatase, 17-alpha hydroxylase. The same procedure was repeated 9 d later with the rest of the birds. Short and long heat exposure caused significant hyperthermia and reduction of egg production, egg weight, ovarian weight, and the number of large follicles. In addition, a significant reduction in plasma progesterone and testosterone was detected 2 d after exposing the birds to heat stress, and plasma 17beta-estradiol was significantly reduced 14 d after initiation of heat stress. Short exposure to heat stress caused significant reduction in mRNA expression of cytochrome P450 17-alpha hydroxylase, exposing the birds to long-term heat stress caused significant reduction in expression of mRNA of both steroidogenic enzymes. No significant change was found in plasma luteinizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone levels during the entire experimental period. We suggest a possible direct effect of heat stress on ovarian function.
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