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T M Lovell, P G Knight and R T Gladwell

Ovarian follicle development is primarily regulated by an interplay between the pituitary gonadotrophins, LH and FSH, and ovary-derived steroids. Increasing evidence implicates regulatory roles of transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) superfamily members, including inhibins and activins. The aim of this study was to identify the expression of mRNAs encoding key receptors of the inhibin/activin system in ovarian follicles ranging from 4 mm in diameter to the dominant F1 follicle (~40 mm).

Ovaries were collected (n=16) from mid-sequence hens maintained on a long-day photoschedule (16 h of light:8 h of darkness). All follicles removed were dissected into individual granulosa and thecal layers. RNA was extracted and cDNA synthesized. Real-time quantitative PCR was used to quantify the expression of mRNA encoding betaglycan, activin receptor (ActR) subtypes (type-I, -IIA and -IIB) and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH); receptor expression data were normalized to GAPDH expression. Detectable levels of ActRI, -IIA and -IIB and the inhibin co-receptor (betaglycan) expression were found in all granulosa and thecal layers analysed. Granulosa ActRI mRNA peaked (P < 0.05) in 8–9.9 mm follicles, whereas ActRIIA rose significantly from 6–7.9 mm to 8–9.9 mm, before falling to F3/2; levels then rose sharply (3-fold) to F1 levels. Granulosa betaglycan mRNA expression rose 3-fold from 4–5.9 mm to 8–9.9 mm, before falling 4-fold to F3/2; levels then rose sharply (4-fold) to F1 levels. ActRIIB levels did not vary significantly during follicular development. Thecal ActRI mRNA expression was similar from 4–7.9 mm then decreased significantly to a nadir at the F4 position, before increasing 2-fold to the F1 (P < 0.05). Although thecal ActRIIB and -IIA expression did not vary significantly from 4 mm to F3, ActRIIB expression increased significantly (2-fold) from F3 to F1 and ActRIIA increased 2-fold from F2 to F1 (P < 0.05). Thecal betaglycan fell to a nadir at F6 after follicle selection; levels then increased significantly to F2, before falling ~50% in the F1.

In all follicles studied expression of betaglycan and ActRI (granulosa: r=0.65, P < 0.001, n=144/group; theca: r=0.49, P < 0.001, n=144/group) was well correlated. No significant correlations were identified between betaglycan and ActRIIA or -IIB. Considering all follicles analysed, granulosa mRNA expression of betaglycan, ActRI, ActRIIA and ActRIIB were all significantly lower than in corresponding thecal tissue (betaglycan, 11.4-fold; ActRIIB, 5.1-fold; ActRI, 3.8-fold; ActRIIA, 2.8-fold). The co-localization of type-I and -II activin receptors and betaglycan on granulosa and thecal cells are consistent with a local auto/paracrine role of inhibins and activins in modulating ovarian follicle development, selection and progression in the domestic fowl.

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T M Lovell, P G Knight and R T Gladwell

Secretion of LH and FSH from the anterior pituitary is regulated primarily by hypothalamic GnRH and ovarian steroid hormones. More recent evidence indicates regulatory roles for certain members of the transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) superfamily including inhibin and activin. The aim of this study was to identify expression of mRNAs encoding key receptors and ligands of the inhibin/activin system in the hen pituitary gland and to monitor their expression throughout the 24–25-h ovulatory cycle. Hens maintained on long days (16 h light/8 h dark) were killed 20, 12, 6 and 2 h before predicted ovulation of a midsequence egg (n=8 per group). Anterior pituitary glands were removed, RNA extracted and cDNA synthesized. Plasma concentrations of LH, FSH, progesterone and inhibin A were measured. Real-time quantitative PCR was used to quantify pituitary expression of mRNAs encoding betaglycan, activin receptor (ActR) subtypes (type I, IIA), GnRH receptor (GnRH-R), LH β subunit, FSH β subunit and GAPDH. Levels of mRNA for inhibin/activin βA and βB subunits, inhibin α subunit, follistatin and ActRIIB mRNA in pituitary were undetectable by quantitative PCR (<2 amol/reaction). Significant changes in expression (P<0.05) of ActRIIA and betaglycan mRNA were found, both peaking 6 h before ovulation just prior to the preovulatory LH surge and reaching a nadir 2 h before ovulation, just after the LH surge. There were no significant changes in expression of ActRI mRNA throughout the cycle although values were correlated with mRNA levels for both ActRIIA (r=0.77; P<0.001) and beta-glycan (r=0.45; P<0.01). Expression of GnRH-R mRNA was lowest 20 h before ovulation and highest (P<0.05) 6 h before ovulation; values were weakly correlated with betaglycan (r=0.33; P=0.06) and ActRIIA (r=0.34; P=0.06) mRNA levels. Expression of mRNAs encoding LH β and FSH β subunit were both lowest (P<0.05) after the LH surge, 2 h before ovulation. These results are consistent with an endocrine, but not a local intrapituitary, role of inhibin-related proteins in modulating gonadotroph function during the ovulatory cycle of the hen, potentially through interaction with betaglycan and ActRIIA. In contrast to mammals, intrapituitary expression of inhibin/activin subunits and follistatin appears to be extremely low or absent in the domestic fowl.