In the ovary of mammalian species, terminal follicular growth is accompanied by a decrease in intrafollicular levels of IGF-binding protein-2 (IGFBP-2) and IGFBP-4. The decrease in IGFBP-4 levels is essentially due to an increase in proteolytic cleavage by intrafollicular pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) in growing healthy follicles. The decrease in IGFBP-2 levels is partly due to a decrease in mRNA expression by follicular cells. In addition, we have recently shown that IGFBP-2 is also proteolytically cleaved by PAPP-A in bovine and porcine growing follicles. In the present work, we showed that follicular fluid from late dominant equine follicles (35 mm diameter) contains a proteolytic activity against IGFBP-2. First follicular fluid from dominant follicles contained lower levels of native IGFBP-2 than the corresponding serum, as assessed by Western ligand blotting. In contrast, immunoblotting experiments showed much higher levels of a 12 kDa proteolytic fragment in dominant follicular fluid than in the serum. Moreover, equine dominant follicular fluid was able to induce proteolysis of exogenous recombinant bovine (rb)IGFBP-2, this degradation being dose-dependently enhanced by IGFs. The proteolytic activity against IGFBP-2 in equine follicles was partially immunoneutralized by a polyclonal antibody raised against human PAPP-A. Moreover, cleavage of rbIGFBP-2 by equine follicular fluid was dose-dependently inhibited by a peptide derived from the heparin-binding domain of IGFBP-5, as well as by peptides derived from other heparin-binding domain-containing proteins such as connective tissue growth factor, vitronectin and heparin-interacting protein, previously shown to inhibit PAPP-A. Finally, the proteolytic activity was very low in subordinate follicles, was high in both early (25 mm diameter) and late (35 mm diameter) dominant follicles, and was slightly lower in preovulatory follicles recovered 35 h after human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) treatment.Overall, these data show that in the equine ovary, the selection of dominant follicles is associated with an increase of the proteolytic degradation of IGFBP-2 by PAPP-A, as for IGFBP-4, and potentially other protease(s), probably contributing to the increase in IGF bioavailability. In atretic subordinate follicles, the decrease in the proteolytic degradation of IGFBP-2, probably due in part to a direct inhibition by peptides containing heparin-binding domains, contributes to the increase in IGFBP-2 levels and the decrease in IGF bioavailability. The expression of PAPP-A and IGFBP-2 mRNA during folliculogenesis remain to be investigated in the mare.
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