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Anthony Estienne and Christopher A Price

Several growth factor families have been shown to be involved in the function of the female reproductive tract. One subfamily of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) superfamily, namely the FGF8 subfamily (including FGF17 and FGF18), has become important as Fgf8 has been described as an oocyte-derived factor essential for glycolysis in mouse cumulus cells and aberrant expression of FGF18 has been described in ovarian and endometrial cancers. In this review, we describe the pattern of expression of these factors in normal ovaries and uteri in rodents, ruminants and humans, as well as the expression of their receptors and intracellular negative feedback regulators. Expression of these molecules in gynaecological cancers is also reviewed. The role of FGF8 and FGF18 in ovarian and uterine function is described, and potential differences between rodents and ruminants have been highlighted especially with respect to FGF18 signalling within the ovarian follicle. Finally, we identify major questions about the reproductive biology of FGFs that remain to be answered, including (1) the physiological concentrations within the ovary and uterus, (2) which cell types within the endometrial stroma and theca layer express FGFs and (3) which receptors are activated by FGF8 subfamily members in reproductive tissues.

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Peng Han, Hilda Guerrero-Netro, Anthony Estienne, Binyun Cao and Christopher A Price

Fibroblast growth factors (FGF) modify cell proliferation and differentiation through receptor tyrosine kinases, which stimulate the expression of transcription factors including members of the early growth response (EGR) family. In ovarian granulosa cells, most FGFs activate typical response genes, although the role of EGR proteins has not been described. In the present study, we determined the regulation of EGR mRNA by FGFs and explored the role of EGR1 in the regulation of FGF-response genes. Addition of FGF1, FGF2, FGF4 or FGF8b increased EGR1 and EGR3 mRNA levels, whereas FGF18 increased only EGR1 mRNA abundance. No mRNA encoding EGR2 or EGR4 was detected. Overexpression of EGR1 increased EGR3 mRNA levels as well as the FGF-response genes SPRY2, NR4A1 and FOSL1 and also increased the phosphorylation of MAPK3/1. Knockdown of EGR3 did not alter the ability of FGF8b to stimulate SPRY2 mRNA levels. These data demonstrate the regulation of EGR1 and EGR3 mRNA abundance by FGFs in granulosa cells and suggest that EGR1 is likely an upstream component of FGF signaling in granulosa cells.

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Anthony Estienne, Belén Lahoz, Peggy Jarrier, Loys Bodin, José Folch, José-Luis Alabart, Stéphane Fabre and Danielle Monniaux

Polymorphisms in the gene encoding bone morphogenetic protein 15 (BMP15) have been associated with multiple ovulations in sheep. As BMP15 regulates inhibin expression in rodents, we assumed that the ovarian inhibin/activin system could mediate part of the effect of BMP15 mutations in the regulation of ovulation rate in sheep. To answer this question, we have studied the effects of two natural loss-of-function mutations of BMP15 on the expression of components of this system. The FecXR and the FecXGr mutations, when present respectively in Rasa Aragonesa ewes at the heterozygous state and in Grivette ewes at the homozygous state, were associated with a twofold increase in ovulation rate. There were only small differences between mutant and wild-type ewes for mRNA expression of INHA, INHBA, ACVR1B, ACVR2A, FST or TGFBR3 in granulosa cells and inhibin A or activin A concentrations in follicular fluid. Moreover, the effects of mutations differed between breeds. In cultures of granulosa cells from wild-type ewes, BMP15, acting alone or in synergy with GDF9, stimulated INHA, INHBA and FST expression, but inhibited the expression of TGFBR3. Activin A did not affect INHBA expression, but inhibited the expression of ACVR2A also. The complexity of the inhibin/activin system, including positive and antagonistic elements, and the differential regulation of these elements by BMP15 and activin can explain that the effects of BMP15 mutations differ when present in different genetic backgrounds. In conclusion, the ovarian inhibin/activin system is unlikely to participate in the increase of ovulation rate associated with BMP15 mutations in sheep.

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Achraf Adib, Sandrine Freret, Jean-Luc Touze, Didier Lomet, Lionel Lardic, Didier Chesneau, Anthony Estienne, Pascal Papillier, Danielle Monniaux and Maria-Teresa Pellicer-Rubio

The first ovulation induced by male effect in sheep during seasonal anoestrus usually results in the development of a short cycle that can be avoided by progesterone priming before ram introduction. In elucidating the involvement of the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis in the occurrence of short cycles, the effects of progesterone and the time of anoestrus on the development of male-induced preovulatory follicles were investigated in anoestrous ewes using morphological, endocrine and molecular approaches. Ewes were primed with progesterone for 2 (CIDR2) or 12 days (CIDR12) and untreated ewes used as controls during early (April) and late (June) anoestrus. The duration of follicular growth and the lifespan of the male-induced preovulatory follicles were prolonged by ∼1.6 days in CIDR12 ewes compared with the controls. These changes were accompanied by a delay in the preovulatory LH and FSH surges and ovulation. Intra-follicular oestradiol concentration and mRNA levels of LHCGR and STAR in the granulosa and theca cells of the preovulatory follicles were higher in CIDR12 ewes than the control ewes. The expression of mRNA levels of CYP11A1 and CYP17A1 also increased in theca cells of CIDR12 ewes. CIDR2 ewes gave intermediate results. Moreover, ewes ovulated earlier in June than in April, without changes in the duration of follicular growth, but these effects were unrelated to the lifespan of corpus luteum. Our results give the first evidence supporting the positive effect of progesterone priming on the completion of growth and maturation of preovulatory follicles induced by male effect in seasonal anoestrous ewes, thereby preventing short cycles.