The main goal of this study was to examine the utility of measuring systemic concentrations of steroid hormones, namely progesterone (P) and estrone sulfate (ES), for monitoring the progression of porcine pregnancy and predicting sow fertility. There were 3 subsets of artificially inseminated (AI’d) sows used in the present experiments: (i) animals sacrificed on gestational day 20 (gd20; n = 16) or (ii) gd50 (n = 16; Experiment 1), and (iii) animals maintained throughout pregnancy (n = 24; Experiment 2). Blood samples (10 mL) were drawn from the orbital sinus and the endocrine data determined at different time points around ovulation/artificial insemination (gd0 (first AI), gd1 (second AI), and gd2) and maternal recognition of pregnancy (gd11), as well as on gd20 and gd50 (during 2 periods of increased embryonic/fetal mortality in swine) were examined for correlations with the numbers of healthy, arrested, and reabsorbing embryos (Experiment 1) or with the number of live, stillborn, and mummified piglets recorded at farrowing (Experiment 2). No correlations were recorded between circulating concentrations of both steroids and the numbers of healthy, arresting, or reabsorbing conceptuses on gd20 or 50 (Experiment 1). The number of corpora lutea (CL) was directly related to the number of healthy embryos/conceptuses on gd20 and 50 (r = 0.71, P = 0.007 and r = 0.76, P = 0.0007, respectively) and the number of arresting embryos on gd20 (r = 0.54, P = 0.05), and negatively correlated with the number of reabsorbing embryos on gd20 (r = -0.53, P = 0.05). In Experiment 2, circulating P concentrations on gd11 related directly to the number of live-born piglets (r = 0.46, P < 0.04). Systemic ES concentrations on gd0, gd1, gd2 and gd50 were correlated with the number of mummified conceptuses recorded at farrowing (r = 0.50, P = 0.03; r = 0.59, P = 0.01; r = 0.48, P = 0.04; and r = 0.56, P = 0.01, respectively) and plasma concentrations of ES on gd20 related directly to the number of stillborn piglets (r = 0.60, P = 0.02). In summary, the number of CL on gd20 and 50 is a reliable marker of embryonic/fetal pig status. Measurements of P and ES on gd20 and 50 showed limited diagnostic value (ie, were not indicative of the number of healthy and abnormally developing embryos/fetuses). However, measurements of circulating P and ES concentrations during the periconceptional period and in the early/mid-pregnancy of sows have the makings of a practical method to predict gestational outcomes.
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