The co-ordinated biosynthesis of progesterone and oestradiol in the human ovary is critical for reproductive cyclicity and eventual pregnancy. The crucial regulatory enzymes for progesterone and oestradiol biosynthesis in granulosa cells are the cholesterol side-chain cleavage (P450scc) and aromatase (P450arom) enzymes respectively. We utilized the cDNA sequences encoding P450arom and P450scc to examine the roles of FSH and LH, and their intracellular second messenger, cyclic AMP (cAMP), in regulating steroidogenic gene expression. Mature granulosa cells (aspirated before the onset of the endogenous LH surge) and granulosa lutein cells (obtained after an ovulatory dose of human chorionic gonadotrophin) were cultured for 4 days with FSH, LH or dibutyryl cAMP (dbcAMP). After the period of culture, total RNA was extracted from granulosa cells and Northern analyses were performed utilizing 32P-labelled cDNAs encoding P450arom and P450scc. Spent culture media were analysed for steroid and cAMP content.
Both FSH and LH strongly stimulated P450arom mRNA expression and oestradiol production in mature granulosa cells. On the other hand, P450scc mRNA expression and progesterone biosynthesis were weakly induced by FSH; maximal synthesis occurred only in the presence of LH. With both gonadotrophins at equivalent concentrations, LH generated a 30-fold higher level of cAMP than FSH. Furthermore, the differential effects of FSH and LH on P450 mRNA expression were reproduced by the presence of low and high concentrations of dbcAMP respectively. LH (and high levels of dbcAMP) increased P450arom mRNA expression in mature granulosa cells but inhibited its accumulation in granulosa lutein cells. In contrast, it stimulated P450scc mRNA expression and progesterone synthesis in both mature granulosa and granulosa lutein cells. Therefore, FSH/low cAMP levels stimulated P450arom gene expression and oestradiol production, while LH/high cAMP levels maximally induced P450scc gene expression and function, in a development-related manner consistent with steroid production in vivo. These findings support the hypothesis that one set of genes (like P450arom) in human granulosa cells is regulated by FSH/low cAMP levels and another (like P450scc) by LH/high cAMP levels.