FSH is a heterodimeric glycoprotein hormone that is produced in the gonadotroph cells of the anterior pituitary. It acts on Sertoli cells of the testis and granulosa cells of the ovary. We previously demonstrated that FSHβ knockout female mice are infertile due to a block in folliculogenesis preceding antral stage development. To investigate aberrations of ovarian gene regulation in the absence of FSH, we analyzed the expression of several important marker genes using Northern blot and in situ hybridization techniques. Key findings are as follows: 1) Follicles of FSHβ knockout mice develop a well organized thecal layer, which is positive for P450 17α-hydroxylase and LH receptor messenger RNAs (mRNAs). This indicates that theca recruitment is completed autonomously with respect to FSH. 2) Granulosa cells in FSH-deficient mice demonstrate an increase in FSH receptor mRNA, and decreases in P450 aromatase, serum/glucocorticoid-induced kinase, and inhibin/activin subunit mRNAs. These data support studies that implicate FSH signaling cascades in the expression of these genes. 3) In contrast to the thecal layer, granulosa cell populations in FSHβ knockout mice do not accumulate LH receptor mRNA. This suggests that although the granulosa cells have a block in proliferation at the antral follicle stage in the absence of FSH, they do not initiate programs of terminal differentiation as seen in luteinizing cells of wild-type ovaries. 4) Ovaries of FSH-deficient mice demonstrate a modest decrease in cyclin D2 mRNA, without up-regulation of cell cycle inhibitor mRNAs associated with luteinization (i.e. p15, p27, and p21). Although components of the FSH null phenotype may be caused by partial cyclin D2 loss of function, these findings indicate that the mechanisms of granulosa cell cycle arrest in FSHβ knockout mice are distinct from those of cycle withdrawal at luteinization. Underscoring the usefulness of the FSH-deficient mouse model, this study clarifies aspects of gonadotropin-dependent folliculogenesis, thecal layer development, cycle control in granulosa cells, and luteinization.
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