Pituitary luteinizing hormone responses to single doses of exogenous GnRH in female social Cape ground squirrels exhibiting low reproductive skew

07 Sep 2007

The Cape ground squirrel Xerus inauris is unusual among social mammals as it exhibits a low reproductive skew, being a facultative plural breeder with not all females breeding within a group. We investigated pituitary function to assess whether there was reproductive inhibition at the level of the pituitary and potentially the hypothalamus in breeding and non-breeding female Cape ground squirrels. We did so during the summer and winter periods by measuring luteinizing hormone (LH) responses to single doses of 2 g exogenous gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and physiological saline administered to 42 females from 11 colonies. Basal LH concentrations of females increased in response to the GnRH challenge. Basal plasma LH concentrations were greater during winter, when most oestrus events are observed. However, we found no differences in plasma LH concentrations between breeding and non-breeding females. We showed that the anterior pituitary of non-breeding female ground squirrels is no less sensitive to exogenously administered GnRH than that of breeding females. We therefore concluded that the pituitary is no more active in breeding than non-breeding females. The lack of differentiation in response to GnRH suggests that either non-breeding females have ovaries that are less sensitive to LH or that they refrain from sexual activity with males through an alternative mechanism of self-restraint.