Passive transfer of maternal GnRH antibodies does not affect reproductive developmentin elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) calves

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Gonadotropin-releasing hormone is intermittently released from the hypothalamus in consistent patterns from before birth to final maturation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis at puberty. Disruption of this signaling via GnRH vaccination during the neonatal period can alter reproduction at maturity. The objective of this study was to investigate the long-term effects of GnRH-antibody exposure on reproductive maturation and function in elk calves passively exposed to high concentrations of GnRH antibodies immediately after birth. Fifteen elk calves (eight males and seven females) born to females treated with GnRH vaccine or sham vaccine during midgestation were divided into two groups based on the concentration of serum GnRH antibodies measured during the neonatal period. Those with robust (>15 pmol 125I-GnRH bound per mL of serum) titers (N = 10; four females and six males) were designated as the exposed group, whereas those with undetectable titers (N = 5; three females and two males) were the unexposed group. Onset of puberty, reproductive development, and endocrine function in antibody-exposed and unexposed male and female elk calves were compared. Neonatal exposure to high concentrations of GnRH antibodies had no effect on body weight (P = 0.968), endocrine profiles (P > 0.05), or gametogenesis in either sex. Likewise, there were no differences between groups in gross or histologic structure of the hypothalamus, pituitary, testes, or ovaries. Pituitary stimulation with a GnRH analog before the second potential reproductive season induced substantial LH secretion in all experimental elk. All females became pregnant during their second reproductive season and all males exhibited similar mature secondary sexual characteristics. There were no differences between exposure groups in hypothalamic GnRH content (P = 0.979), pituitary gonadotropin content (P > 0.05) or gonadal structure. We concluded that suppressing GnRH signaling through immunoneutralization during the neonatal period likely does not alter long-term reproductive function in this species.