The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of long-term melatonin treatment applied during the non-breeding season on semen characteristics, endocrine function of testicles and baseline level of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) in Awassi rams kept in the temperate continental zone of Europe and used as semen donors in an artificial insemination (AI) programme. On 23 February (day 0), slow-release melatonin implants were inserted subcutaneously into rams (n = 8). Control animals (n = 8) received no treatment. In both groups, basic semen parameters (concentration, total motility, fast and slow forward motility, morphology), GnRH-induced testosterone response and basal IGF-I concentration were evaluated on days 0, 47 and 71. No differences were found in concentration of spermatozoa, total motility, and numbers of spermatozoa with fast and slow progressive motility and normal/abnormal morphology between the melatonin-treated and the control group. However, in melatonin-treated animals, basal and GnRH-induced testosterone levels were slightly elevated on day 47 and became significantly higher on day 71 (P < 0.05) as compared to controls. There was no difference in plasma IGF-I levels between the groups. In conclusion, slow-release melatonin applied during the non-breeding season improves testicular testosterone production but does not influence the semen characteristics and the IGF-I level of semen donor Awassi rams used in an AI programme and kept in the temperate continental zone of Europe.
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