Stage of ovarian follicular development associated with the initiation of steroidogenic competence in avian granulosa cells

J. L. Tilly, K. I. Kowalski, Alan Leslie Johnson

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Previously described models for avian ovarian steroidogenesis, using mature, 25-40-mm preovulatory follicles as the source of tissues, were based on the assumption that interaction of the granulosa layer, as the predominant source of progesterone, with adjacent theca cells is required for maximal production of C21, C19, and C18 steroids. In the present study, we evaluated the steroidogenic capacity of ovarian cells isolated from less mature, 6-8-mm and 9-12-mm follicles in the chicken ovary (representative of a stage of development 2-3 wk prior to ovulation) to determine at which stage of follicular development granulosa and/or theca cells become steroidogenically competent. Granulosa cells collected from 6-8-mm follicles were found to be virtually incompetent to produce steroids, containing extremely low basal levels of progesterone (12 pg/5 x 105 cells) and failing to respond with increased steroid output following a 3-h exposure to ovine LH (oLH; 0.1 and 100 ng/0.5 ml), ovine FSH (oFSH; 100, 500, and 1000 ng/0.5 ml), 8-bromo-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (8-bromo-cAMP; 0.33 and 3.33 mM) or 25-hydroxycholesterol (250 and 2 500 ng/0.5 ml). However, addition of pregnenolone (20 and 200 ng/0.5 ml) to granulosa incubations resulted in significantly increased progesterone levels. Granulosa cells of 6-8-mm follicles also failed to increase cAMP formation in the presence of oLH (10, 100, and 1 000 ng/0.5 ml) and 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX; 10 μM), but responded to stimulation with 1 000 ng oFSH (4.4-fold increase over basal) or 10 μM forskolin (32-fold increase over basal) in the presence of IBMX. In contrast, granulosa cells isolated from 9-12-mm follicles and incubated for 3 h in vitro were found to contain basal progesterone levels 200-fold higher than those found in granulosa cells of 6-8-mm follicles. Furthermore, granulosa cells of 9-12-mm follicles markedly increased progesterone production following incubation in the presence of oFSH (100-1 000 ng/0.5 ml), 8-bromo-cAMP (0.33 and 3.33 mM), or 25-hydroxycholesterol (250 and 2 500 ng/0.5 ml). However, these granulosa cells remained unresponsive to oLH (0.1, 10, and 100 ng/0.5 ml), failing to increase cAMP accumulation (in the presence of IBMX) and progesterone output. Theca cells of small yellow follicles were found to produce measurable basal levels of progesterone, androstenedione, and estradiol, and levels of each steroid were significantly increased following a 3-h challenge with oLH, 8-bromo-cAMP, 25-hydroxycholesterol, and pregnenolone. In light of these findings, we propose that in growing follicles (≤8 mm) in the ovary of the domestic hen, theca cells are the predominant (if not only) source of C21, C19, and C18 steroid production until granulosa cells become steroidogenically competent. Furthermore, steroidogenic competency in granulosa cells in vivo apparently occurs during the transition of follicles from 6-8 mm to 9-12 mm in diameter, possibly under the stimulatory regulation of FSH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-314
Number of pages10
JournalBiology of Reproduction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 7 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cell Biology


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