It is known from epidemiological studies that negative energy balance in early lactating dairy cows is related to a depression in reproductive performance. Elevated plasma concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) are a typical metabolic characteristic of these animals and are proposed as the possible link. The suggestion is that NEFA might have a direct effect on the ovary, by affecting development of the oocyte or the granulosa cells. However, no data is available concerning the relationship between the concentration of NEFA in follicular fluid and plasma. Therefore, a cross-over study with 10 heifers around 15 months of age was conducted to analyze this relationship and examine the suggested effects of the negative energy balance on follicular growth. Investigation of these effects was performed on fasted heifers. The experimental treatment consisted of feeding hay with a subsequent period of fasting, to induce elevated plasma NEFA concentrations. Sampling of follicular fluid was performed using transvaginal aspiration of follicles, which were standardized using a synchronization protocol. In addition, concentrations of glucose, insulin, NEFA, and estradiol were measured in plasma. Follicular estradiol and progesterone concentrations were also measured to assess the quality of the dominant follicle. Fasting resulted in significantly lower plasma glucose (P=0.0006) and plasma insulin (P
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