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R Braw-Tal, D J Tisdall, N L Hudson, P Smith, and K P McNatty


The aim of this study was to investigate the sites of follistatin and α and βA inhibin mRNA expression in the ovaries of female sheep fetuses at 90, 100, 120 and 135 days of gestation (term=day 147). At 90 and 100 days primordial follicles were formed, followed by the appearance of primary follicles at 100 days of gestation. At days 120 and 135, primordial, primary and preantral (i.e. secondary) follicles were present in the ovaries, but antral (i.e. tertiary) follicles were not observed at any of these gestational ages. Two Booroola genotypes were studied: homozygous carriers (BB) and non-carriers (++) of the fecundity gene (FecB). Irrespective of genotype no specific hybridization of the α and βA inhibin riboprobes was detected in any ovarian cells at days 90, 100, 120 or 135 of gestation. In control mature ovaries, on the other hand, strong hybridization in the granulosa cells of antral follicles was observed. In contrast to α and βA inhibin, follistatin antisense (but not sense) riboprobes hybridized specifically to the granulosa cells of preantral follicles with two or more layers of cells at days 120 and 135 of gestation. Moreover, hybridization was also evident in the cells of the ovarian rete at days 120 and 135, but not at 90 or 100 days. No follistatin mRNA expression was observed in the granulosa cells of primordial or primary follicles or in any other ovarian cell type at any of the gestational ages examined. No FecB-specific differences in follistatin expression were noted with respect to stage of preantral follicular development and there were no obvious differences in the intensity of expression.

These results show that follistatin mRNA is expressed specifically in the granulosa cells and intraovarian rete. Expression of follistatin in rete cells was coincident with the increasing numbers of growing follicles within the fetal ovary, indicating that rete cell function may have a role in the ontogeny of early follicular growth. Our results suggest that follistatin and α and βA inhibin may not be important for the initiation of follicle growth in the sheep ovary, since these genes are not expressed during the transformation of a primordial follicle to a primary structure. However, the evidence for follistatin mRNA expression in the ovine fetal ovary implies that this hormone is likely to play a role during the early stages of follicle growth.

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D J Tisdall, K Watanabe, N L Hudson, P Smith, and K P McNatty


A key question in elucidating the role of FSH in ovarian function is to determine when during follicular growth the FSH receptor first appears. The aim of this study was to examine the site and time of FSH receptor gene expression during early follicular growth. This study was carried out on ovaries of adult sheep during the luteal and prostaglandin-induced follicular phase of the oestrous cycle and also on ovaries of fetal sheep at 90, 100, 120 and 135 days of gestation (term=day 147).

Using reverse transcription-PCR and a set of PCR primers spanning exons 8/9/10, two partial FSH receptor cDNAs (500 and 310 bp) were isolated from adult sheep ovary. It was shown by sequencing that exon 8 was deleted in the 310 bp cDNA, implying that this was part of an alternatively spliced FSH receptor transcript. Using RNA in situ hybridisation on ovaries of adult sheep, FSH receptor mRNA was observed in granulosa cells of early preantral follicles with one to two cell layers and it was seen that gene expression continued throughout folliculogenesis into advanced stages of atresia. Moreover, in the fetus, FSH receptor gene expression was detected in follicles with two or more layers of granulosa cells in ovaries taken at 100, 120 and 135 days of gestation.

These results suggest that the FSH receptor gene is expressed after the granulosa cells of a folllicle have begun to divide but not during the earliest stages of follicle growth, namely the transformation of a primordial follicle to a primary follicle.

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J. S. Fleming, D. J. Tisdall, P. J. Greenwood, N. L. Hudson, D. A. Heath, and K. P. McNatty


Ovine cDNA probes for the α and βA inhibin subunits and for follistatin were used to investigate the mRNA species for these hormones in ovaries obtained during the luteal phase of the oestrous cycle, from Booroola ewes which were homozygous carriers (BB) or non-carriers (++) of the FecB gene. BB ewes had significantly higher concentrations of peripheral FSH and LH immunoreactivity than ++ ewes, but the peripheral inhibin immunoreactivity and ovarian inhibin and progesterone secretion rates were not significantly different between genotypes. No gene-specific differences in the number or size of mRNA transcripts detected by Northern blotting were noted for any of these genes. A single α inhibin mRNA species at 1.5 kb was observed in the follicle RNA from ++ and BB ovaries. Low amounts of α inhibin hybridization were discerned occasionally in + + and BB stroma and also in BB, but not in ++, corpora lutea. The βA inhibin gene was expressed only in the follicles from both ++ and BB ovaries. At least three βA inhibin transcripts were observed; one at 7.5kb and at least two between 1.4 and 5.0kb. The follistatin cDNA probe detected two major transcripts at 2.7 and 1.5 kb and a minor band at 0.5 kb in both follicle and corpora lutea RNA. Densitometry of the Northern blots revealed no significant gene-specific differences in the levels of α inhibin and follistatin gene mRNA transcripts. However, significantly greater amounts of total βA inhibin hybridization were detected in follicle RNA from BB compared with ++ ovaries (P<0.001) and this FecB-specific difference appeared to be associated with the 7.5 kb transcript. We conclude that the Booroola FecB gene does not influence the synthesis of the α inhibin subunit or follistatin during the luteal phase of the oestrous cycle, but may affect inhibin or activin synthesis in the ovaries of FecB carriers, by increasing the transcription or stability of the βA inhibin mRNA species.