Estrogens are synonymous with fertility and infertility in mammals. Our knowledge of the biological actions of estrogens, however, is incomplete. Three recent developments have thrown new light on the actions of estrogens in mammalian reproduction that will lead to a greater understanding of their functions. They are (a) the identification of a second estrogen receptor, called ERbeta, (b) the identification of ligand-specific ER coactivators and (c) mouse models with targeted disruption of the genes encoding both ER and the aromatase enzyme. These models provide for the first time animals which are either unable to respond to endogenous or exogenous estrogens (ER 'knockouts'), or can respond to exogenous estrogen but do not make endogenous estrogen (aromatase 'knockout' or ArKO). Furthermore, the ArKO mouse has provided a model to study the effects on the ovary of exogenous estrogens of plant and synthetic origin that are of clinical relevance. The data show that estrogens are essential for fertility but not for survival after birth or for the formation of the reproductive tract. This commentary focuses on the roles of estrogen in folliculogenesis and in the maintenance of the ovarian somatic cell phenotype in the mouse. We also hypothesize that the ERalpha and ERbeta may subserve the proliferative and differentiative actions of estrogen, respectively, within a follicle. In summary, estrogen is obligatory for normal folliculogenesis beyond the antral stage and for the maintenance of the female phenotype of the somatic cells within the ovaries. This clearly demonstrates a major role for sex steroids in somatic cell differentiation in the gonads of eutherian mammals and challenges the central paradigm that the ovary is the default gonad, arising due to the absence of testicular defining signals. Evidence is also provided for the plasticity of the adult female gonad. Understanding the mechanisms of estrogen actions will provide an insight into the regulation of reproductive disorders afflicting women today, notably ovarian dysfunction and the menopause.
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KL Britt and JK Findlay
AM Holland, JK Findlay, and JA Clements
The kallikreins (KLKs) are a highly conserved multi-gene family of serine proteases that are expressed in a wide variety of tissues and act on a diverse range of substrates. KLK-like enzyme activity has variously been reported to increase or decrease during the period leading up to ovulation in the equine chorionic gonadotrophin (eCG)primed, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG)-stimulated immature rat ovary. These earlier studies, which used biochemical assays to detect enzyme activity, lacked the specificity and sensitivity necessary to characterise conclusively the activity of the individual KLK gene family members. In this study, we have used a gene-specific RT-PCR/Southern hybridisation strategy to delineate the expression patterns of six of the individual KLK genes expressed in the rat ovary (rKLK1-3 and rKLK7-9). We have identified three broad patterns of expression in the eCG/hCG-stimulated ovary in which there is either a post-eCG increase/pre-ovulatory decrease in rKLK expression (rKLK1, rKLK3), a peri-ovulatory decrease in expression (rKLK2, rKLK8) or a relatively unchanged pattern of expression (rKLK7, rKLK9). In addition to clarifying the earlier biochemical studies, these findings support a differential role for the individual KLKs in the ovulatory process.
AE Drummond, M Dyson, E Thean, NP Groome, DM Robertson, and JK Findlay
The contribution of specific follicle populations to dimeric inhibin production and inhibin subunit mRNA expression by the rat ovary has been investigated in two model systems, granulosa cells isolated from 25-day-old diethylstilboestrol (DES)-treated rats and post-natal rat ovaries, dispersed in culture or whole ovaries, using specific two-site immunoassays and 'real time' PCR. Media from FSH-stimulated granulosa cell cultures fractionated by gel filtration and RP-high performance liquid chromatography revealed two predominant peaks of alpha subunit activity which were attributed to alpha subunit and 31 k dimeric inhibin-A. The corresponding inhibin-B levels were low. FSH stimulation did not alter the ratio of inhibin-A:alpha subunit produced by granulosa cells. All three inhibin subunit mRNAs were expressed by granulosa cells, with eight-fold more alpha subunit mRNA relative to either of the beta subunits. Administration of DES to immature rats prior to the isolation of granulosa cells from the ovary led to beta(A) and beta(B) mRNA expression being down-regulated in the absence of any significant change in alpha subunit expression by the granulosa cells. Inhibin-A, -B and -alpha subunit were produced by basal and stimulated cultures of ovarian cells prepared from 4-, 8- and 12-day-old rats, indicating that primary, preantral and antral follicles contribute to total inhibin production. Consistent with these results, follicles within these ovaries expressed all three inhibin subunit mRNAs, with maximal expression observed in the ovaries of 8-day-old rats. The appearance of antral follicles in the ovary at day 12 led to a decline in the mRNA levels of each of the subunits but was most evident for the beta subunits. There was a profound influence of secondary preantral follicles on dimeric inhibin-A production, with FSH stimulation increasing inhibin-A relative to alpha subunit levels in cultures of ovarian cells prepared from 8-day-old rats. Thus, preantral follicles exposed to FSH contribute significantly to beta(A) subunit production by the ovary. In contrast, primary and preantral follicles did not produce inhibin-B in response to FSH stimulation. Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) enhanced, in a time-dependent manner, the production of the inhibin forms by ovarian cells in culture, although inhibin-B production was not responsive until day 8. The simultaneous treatment of ovarian cell cultures with FSH and TGF-beta elicited the greatest increases in production of all the inhibin forms. In summary, ovaries of 4-, 8- and 12-day-old rats expressed inhibin subunit mRNAs and produced dimeric inhibin-A and -B and free alpha subunit. Preantral follicles (day-8 ovarian cell cultures) were particularly sensitive to stimulation by FSH and TGF-beta and had a substantial capacity for inhibin production. The production of oestrogen by follicles may be instrumental in regulating inhibin production given that beta subunit mRNA expression was down-regulated by DES. The mechanisms by which inhibin-A and inhibin-B are individually regulated are likely to be similar during the post-natal period, when folliculogenesis is being established, and diverge thereafter, when inhibin-A becomes the predominant form in the fully differentiated ovary.
L.A. Salamonsen, S.J. Stuchbery, C.M. O'Grady, J.D. Godkin, and J.K. Findlay
Ovine endometrial cells were isolated from ovariectomized oestrogen and progesterone-treated ewes and maintained in primary culture. In-vitro treatment with human interferon-α2 (Roferon, Hoffman La Roche) (5, 50 IU/ml) or purified ovine trophoblast protein 1 (oTP-1, 30 ng/ml) significantly attenuated PGF2α (25±17, 29±17, 28±9%±SEM of control [no in-vitro treatment = 100%] respectively, N=4 ewes) and PGE (11±4, 16±4, 16±5% of control) release from the cultured cells. Fluorography of two dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoretic analyses of proteins secreted by the cells following 35S-methionine incorporation, revealed that synthesis and secretion of the same "pregnancy-related" proteins was stimulated by both interferon-α2 and oTP-1. Thus, interferon-α2 (which has sequence homology with oTP-1) acts on the ovine endometrium, eliciting similar biological responses to those of oTP-1.
R.G. Forage, R.W. Brown, K.J. Oliver, B.T. Atrache, P.L. Devine, G.C. Hudson, N.H. Goss, K.C. Bertram, P. Tolstoshev, D.M. Robertson, D.M. de Kretser, B. Doughton, H.G. Burger, and J.K. Findlay
Seven Merino–Border Leicester cross–bred ewes were immunized with a purified fusion protein, produced by recombinant DNA methods, of the a subunit of bovine inhibin. Four animals were immunized with the fusion protein alone and three with a conjugate made by coupling the fusion protein to keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) using glutaraldehyde. Each animal received four injections of the fusion protein over 93 days. The animals were synchronized using progestagen sponges and subjected to laparoscopy for the determination of ovulation rates in two consecutive cycles (days 115 and 135). The immunized animals had overall mean ovulation rates for each cycle of 3.4 and 3.4 which was significantly (P < 0.001) above the rates of 1.1 and 1.4 determined for the controls, which had either received no treatment (n=5) or had been immunized with 300 μg KLH (n=4). Analysis of antisera taken on day 115 showed significant fusion protein antibodies and iodinated inhibin–binding capacity in the test but not control groups. Furthermore, antisera to the fusion protein in four out of seven ewes neutralized the inhibin bioactivity of ovine follicular fluid in an in–vitro bioassay. These data demonstrate that neutralization of inhibin can be effected by immunization with bovine inhibin a subunit and that such immunization results in increased ovulation rates as predicted from the biological role of inhibin as a suppressor of FSH.