Ewe breed differences in cervical anatomy and cervicovaginal mucus properties: An international study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionTheriogenology. 2021, 160, 18-25 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2020.10.038
In sheep, cervical artificial insemination (AI) involves depositing semen at the cervical opening, as it is not possible to traverse the cervix due to its complex anatomy. However, internationally this method yields low pregnancy rates when frozen-thawed semen is used. An exception to this is in Norway, in which vaginal deposition of frozen-thawed semen to a natural estrus yields pregnancy rates around 70%. As the cervix and its secretions are the principal factors influencing sperm transport to the site of fertilization the aim of this study was to characterise the differences in the cervical anatomy as well as the cervicovaginal mucus properties of six European ewe breeds across three countries known to have differences in pregnancy rates following cervical AI with frozen-thawed semen. These were Suffolk and Belclare in Ireland, Fur and Norwegian White Sheep (NWS) in Norway and Ile de France and Romanov in France (n = 28–30 ewes/breed). Cervicovaginal mucus was collected at the follicular and luteal phases of both a synchronized and natural cycle and assessed for mucus weight, viscosity and colour. The anatomical characteristics of the cervix (length of the cervix, number of cervical rings and the appearance of the external os) were assessed post-mortem. There was a type of the cycle by ewe breed interaction represented by no differences in mucus production between ewe breeds at the natural cycle for both the follicular and luteal phases of the cycle. However, there were differences between ewe breeds at the synchronized cycle (P < 0.05). Belclare had the lowest mucus production at the follicular phase while NWS had the lowest amount of mucus at the luteal phase of the synchronized cycle. Overall, across all ewe breeds, mucus production was higher at the follicular than at the luteal phase (P < 0.05). Despite reports of Suffolk and NWS having the most divergent pregnancy rates following cervical AI with frozen-thawed semen, both breeds had the lowest overall mucus viscosity at the follicular phase of both types of cycle with no differences between both ewe breeds (P > 0.05). The length of the cervix, number of cervical rings and the external os type were affected by ewe breed (P < 0.05). Suffolk ewes had longer cervices but lower number of cervical rings than NWS and Fur ewes (both with higher pregnancy rates). In conclusion, while mucus production and mucus viscosity was affected by breed, these changes are not consistent with the known differences between ewe breeds in their pregnancy rates following cervical AI with frozen-thawed semen.