The transition of preantral to antral follicles is one of the major steps in follicular development, yet little is known about the molecular and functional changes that occur as preantral granulosa cells differentiate into cumulus cells. The cumulus oophorus of large antral follicles undergoes expansion in response to the preovulatory surge of gonadotropins, but preantral granulosa cells do not. The objective of this project was to determine the molecular mechanisms underlying this differential response. Cumulus expansion in vitro requires secretion of cumulus-expansion enabling factors (CEEFs) by the oocyte and stimulation by a ligand, epidermal growth factor (EGF) or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This combined stimulation results in activation of MAPKs (MAPK3/1 (formerly ERK1/2) and MAPK14 (formerly p38)) and increased Has2, Ptgs2, Tnfaip6 and Ptx3 mRNA levels, all of which are required for cumulus expansion. Only fully-grown oocytes from antral follicles were competent to enable expansion and increases in expansion-related transcripts in cumulus cells, whereas growing oocytes of preantral follicles did not. To assess the competence of preantral granulosa cells to generate responses associated with expansion, they were treated with FSH or EGF and co-cultured with fully-grown oocytes secreting CEEFs. MAPKs were activated by EGF in preantral granulosa cells to essentially the same levels as in cumulus cells. Preantral granulosa cells treated with EGF, but not those treated with FSH increased Has2, Ptgs2 and Ptx3 mRNAs to 17-96% of the levels observed in cumulus cells. In contrast, the level of Tnfaip6 mRNA was minimally stimulated in preantral granulosa cells. Therefore, preantral granulosa cells do not undergo expansion for two fundamental reasons. First, the growing oocytes of preantral follicles do not secrete active CEEFs. Second, activation of MAPKs alone in preantral granulosa cells, even in the presence of CEEFs, is not sufficient to increase the expression of essential transcripts, particularly Tnfaip6 mRNA. Thus, preantral granulosa cells differ from cumulus cells in CEEF-dependent processes downstream of the activation of MAPKs.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Developmental Biology
- Cell Biology