To study the potential involvement of inhibin A (inhA), inhibin B (inhB), activin A (actA) and follistatin (FS) in the recruitment of follicles into the preovulatory hierarchy, growing follicles (ranging from 1 mm to the largest designated F1) and the three most recent postovulatory follicles (POFs) were recovered from laying hens (n=11). With the exception of <4 mm follicles and POFs, follicle walls were dissected into separate granulosa (G) and theca (T) layers before extraction. Contents of inhA, inhB, actA and FS in tissue extracts were assayed using specific two-site ELISAs and results are expressed per mg DNA. InhB content of both G and T followed a similar developmental pattern, although the content was >4-fold higher in G than in T at all stages. InhB content was very low in follicles <4 mm but increased ~50-fold (P<0.0001) to peak in 7-9 mm follicles, before falling steadily as follicles entered and moved up the follicular hierarchy (40-fold; 8 mm vs F2). In stark contrast, inhA remained very low in prehierarchical follicles (< or =9 mm) but then increased progressively as follicles moved up the preovulatory hierarchy to peak in F1 (approximately 100-fold increase; P<0.0001); In F1 >97% of inhA was confined to the G layer whereas in 5-9 mm follicles inhA was only detected in the T layer. Both inhA and inhB contents of POFs were significantly reduced compared with F1. Follicular actA was mainly confined to the T layer although detectable levels were present in G from 9 mm; actA was low between 1 and 9 mm but increased sharply as follicles entered the preovulatory hierarchy (approximately 6-fold higher in F4; P<0.0001); levels then fell approximately 2-fold as the follicle progressed to F1. Like actA, FS predominated in the T although significant amounts were also present in the G of prehierarchical follicles (4-9 mm), in contrast to actA, which was absent from the G. The FS content of T rose approximately 3-fold from 6 mm to a plateau which was sustained until F1. In contrast, the FS content of G was greatest in prehierarchical follicles and fell approximately 4-fold in F4-F1 follicles. ActA and FS contents of POFs were reduced compared with F1. In vitro studies on follicle wall explants confirmed the striking divergence in the secretion of inhA and inhB during follicle development. These findings of marked stage-dependent differences in the expression of inhA, inhB, actA and FS proteins imply a significant functional role for these peptides in the recruitment and ordered progression of follicles within the avian ovary.
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