The induction of ovulation in early post-partum ewes is associated with a high incidence of premature luteal regression which is independent of the suckling stimulus but dependent on the stage post partum. The aim of the present study was to determine whether oxytocin receptors are present on uterine endometrium early in the luteal phase and hence ascertain whether oxytocin-induced uterine prostaglandin F2-alpha release is a possible mechanism involved in the premature regression of these post-partum corpora lutea. Ovarian and uterine tissues were collected on day 4 of the cycle in ewes induced to ovulate at either 21 or 35 days post partum (n = 4 per group). A further four cyclic ewes were similarly synchronized to ovulate and acted as controls. Corpora lutea from the 21-day post-partum group were significantly (P < 0.01) smaller, had a lower progesterone content and a reduced capacity to secrete progesterone in vitro than corpora lutea from 35-day post-partum or control ewes.
A highly specific oxytocin receptor ligand I-125-labelled d(CH2)5[Tyr(Me)2,Thr4,Tyr-NH2(9)]-vasotocin was used to localize and characterize high affinity oxytocin receptors in uterine endometrium (dissociation constant 145 pmol/l). Oxytocin receptor concentrations in endometrium from ewes induced to ovulate at 21 days post partum were on average five-fold higher (P < 0.05) than in 35-day post-partum and control groups.