a1 Teagasc, Animal Production Research Centre, Mellows Campus, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland
Increased genetic selection over the past 40 years has resulted in a dairy cow with an improved biological efficiency for producing milk but with an associated reduced fertility. Embryo loss is the greatest factor contributing to the failure of a cow to conceive. The extent and timing of embryo loss indicates that 70% to 80% of this loss occurs in the first 2 weeks after artificial insemination (AI). This is the period when a number of critical phases in embryo development occur and where protein accretion, substrate utilization and embryo metabolism increase dramatically. During this time the early embryo is completely dependent on the oviduct and uterine environment for its survival and it is likely that the embryo requires an optimal uterine environment to ensure normal growth and viability. There is increasing evidence of an association between the concentration of systemic progesterone and early embryo loss and that progesterone supplementation of cows, particularly those with low progesterone, can reduce this loss. While progesterone is known to affect uterine function and embryo growth, little is known about the uterus during the period of early embryo loss and how this is affected by changes in the concentration of systemic progesterone. The expression of uterine genes encoding the transport protein retinol binding protein (RBP) and the gene for folate binding protein (FBP) appear to be sensitive to changes in systemic progesterone, particularly during the early luteal phase of the cycle. Uterine concentrations of proteins also seem to be regulated by stage of cycle; however, their relationship with the systemic concentration of progesterone is unclear. There is an urgent need to characterize the uterine environment from a functional perspective during the early part of the luteal phase of the cycle, particularly in the high-producing cow, in order to understand the factors contributing to early embryo loss and in order to devise strategies to minimize or reduce this loss.
(Received September 08 2007)
(Accepted December 02 2007)
* This invited paper was presented at BSAS meeting ‘Fertility in Dairy Cows – Bridging the Gaps’ 30–31 August 2007, Liverpool Hope University.