Apoptosis in atretic ovarian follicles is associated with selective decreases in messenger ribonucleic acid transcripts for gonadotropin receptors and cytochrome P450 aromatase.
Although atresia of ovarian follicles is of critical importance during preovulatory follicle selection as well as during normal and premature menopause, the mechanisms underlying atresia remain poorly understood. To study molecular events associated with atresia, we evaluated changes in mRNA levels for cytochrome P450 aromatase, FSH receptor, LH receptor, and a structural protein, beta-actin, during atresia in small (3-mm diameter) and large (6-mm diameter) porcine follicles. In addition, internucleosomal fragmentation of DNA characteristic of apoptosis ("programmed cell death") was assessed in individual healthy and atretic follicles using a sensitive autoradiographic method. Follicles were classified as morphologically healthy or atretic based on the absence or presence of follicular haemorrhagia and the degree of follicular clarity. Morphological signs of atresia in individual follicles were correlated with the occurrence of internucleosomal DNA fragmentation in granulosa cells as well as in thecal cells during advanced stages of atresia. The presence of apoptosis in atretic follicles was also associated with significant decreases in follicular fluid estrogen concentrations compared to those in healthy follicles of the same size. The decline in estrogen synthesis in degenerating follicles was further correlated with decreased levels of a predominant 2.6-kilobase aromatase mRNA. Moreover, substantial declines in both FSH receptor and LH receptor mRNAs were found in atretic follicles, consistent with previous reports of their decreased responsiveness to gonadotropins. The observed decreases in mRNAs for aromatase and gonadotropin receptors could not be attributed to a generalized degradation of cellular RNA during atresia, as evidenced by the presence of intact 18S and 28S ribosomal RNA as well as constitutive expression of beta-actin mRNA in atretic follicles. These data indicate that apoptotic cell death is initiated in both granulosa and thecal cells of porcine follicles during atresia. Associated with internucleosomal DNA fragmentation, decreased transcription of specific ovarian genes or destabilization of their transcripts leads to selective decreases in aromatase and gonadotropin receptor mRNAs. The atresia of ovarian follicles provides an interesting model to further study the molecular events associated with DNA fragmentation and selective mRNA down-regulation during apoptosis.
Tilly, JL; Kowalski, KI; Schomberg, DW; Hsueh, AJ
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