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Twenty-four crossbred primiparous sows were used to investigate the influence of insulin administration after weaning on the intrafollicular insulin-like growth factor i (IGF-I) system. Sows received 0.4 i.u. insulin kg-1 bodyweight or an equivalent volume of saline for 3 days (n = 5 insulin; n = 4 saline) or 5 days (n = 5 insulin; n = 6 saline) after weaning or served as untreated controls on day 1 (n = 4). The number and diameters of ovarian follicles were recorded, and fluid was aspirated from the 20 largest follicles for determination of oestradiol and IGF-I by radioimmunoassay and of insulin-like growth factor-binding proteins (IGFBPs) by western ligand blotting. The walls of the follicles were collected for mRNA analysis by RNase protection assay or granulosa cells were collected for estimation of apoptosis by flow cytometry. Insulin treatment resulted in smaller diameters of all follicles (P < 0.05) and tended (P < 0.07) to increase the number of follicles available on day 5 compared with saline-treated animals (19.8 versus 17.8). The concentration of oestradiol in follicular fluid from large (7-10 mm) follicles on days 3 and 5 was reduced (treatment by size class interaction; P < 0.05) by insulin treatment. Insulin also reduced intrafollicular concentrations of IGF-I at days 3 and 5 after weaning (treatment by day interaction; P < 0.02) while the amounts of IGFBP-3 and IGFBPs of molecular mass 30 and 22 kDa decreased from day 3 to day 5 in saline-treated animals only (treatment by day interaction; P < 0.05). Gene expression for IGF-I increased in saline-treated animals but decreased fourfold in insulin-treated sows from day 3 to day 5 (treatment by day interaction; P < 0.002). Gene expression for IGFBP-d decreased (P < 0.04) from day 3 to day 5, while expression of IGFBP-2 was unaffected by treatment or day. Overall, insulin influenced the IGF-I system in a manner consistent with slowing follicular growth and possibly allowed more follicles to become available for ovulation.