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D. Monniaux

Summary. In Romanov ewes at Day 13 or 14 of the cycle, granulosa cells originating from individual follicles were studied in short-term incubations for aromatase activity and thymidine incorporation. The study was performed on 76 follicles of different sizes (2–7 mm diameter) and degree of atresia, as assesed by histological examination of smears of granulosa cells. As atresia progressed, the labelling index and aromatase activity of granulosa cells decreased. In normal follicles, when follicular diameter increased, the labelling index decreased, while aromatase activity of granulosa cells and oestradiol-17β concentration in follicular fluid increased. There was a negative relationship between oestradiol concentration in follicular fluid and the labelling index of granulosa cells in vitro (r s = −0·75; P < 0·01), suggesting an inverse relationship between growth and differentiation of granulosa cells in normal sheep follicles.

In normal small and medium-sized follicles (2–6 mm), incubation with FSH (100 ng/ml) for 2 h increased significantly the labelling index of granulosa cells. In normal medium-sized follicles (4–6 mm), incubation with FSH (50 ng/ml) for 1 h decreased the aromatase activity of granulosa cells. From these results, it is suggested that FSH acts mainly on cells in the GI phase of the cell cycle, which are steroidogenically active, and makes them move into the S phase where their steroidogenic activity is temporarily inhibited.

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D. Monniaux and M. M. de Reviers

Summary. Iodinated FSH was injected to 18- and 36-day-old rats of 3 strains (03, 04 and 12) with different sensitivity to FSH (12 < 03 < 04) and autoradiography was performed on histological sections of the labelled ovaries. Specific labelling was quantified by microphotometry on histological slides, on granulosa cells of individual follicles with different sizes (> 80 μm diameter) and qualities.

In small preantral follicles (< 160 μm diameter) the labelling was low and homogeneous within the granulosa; it increased between 18 and 36 days of age in the 3 strains. At 36 days, ovaries were characterized by the presence of large preantral and antral follicles with a higher labelling in the outer layers of granulosa (near the theca), compared to the inner layers. In definitely atretic follicles, a loss of binding sites was detected in the outer layers. In rats of Strains 03 and 04, the number of binding sites for FSH in the outer layers of granulosa of follicles with a diameter of > 160 μm increased with follicular size; no change was detected in follicles of Strain 12 rats. The low number of binding sites for FSH and the lack of terminal maturation which characterized the follicles of strain 12 rats can be related to the poor and delayed follicular development, the low sensitivity to exogenous FSH and the low fertility of the animals of this strain.

Keywords: FSH binding; granulosa; follicular growth; rat ovary; quantitative autoradiography; strains of rats

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L Abdennebi, AS Lesport, JJ Remy, D Grebert, C Pisselet, D Monniaux and R Salesse

Splice variants of mRNA encoding the LH receptor (LHR) during follicular development were characterized in cyclic and non-cyclic ewes. Granulosa and theca cells were collected from individual follicles. After amplification by RT-PCR of a region situated between exon 9 and exon 11 of the LHR gene, three distinct bands, LHR1 (full length), LHR2 (deletion of exon 10), LHR3 (deletion of 262 bp in exon 11), were observed in the granulosa and theca cells of ovine antral follicles of various sizes (2.5-6.0 mm). Expression of LHR mRNA in theca cells varied with the annual cycle of reproduction (P < 0.001), and was highly expressed in all classes of follicle collected from anoestrous ewes (1.3 +/- 0.1, n = 8 in small follicles; 1.8 +/- 0.2, n = 8 in medium follicles; 1.7 +/- 0.3, n = 4 in large follicles; arbitrary units) compared with follicles collected from oestrous ewes (0.19 +/- 0.06, n = 8 in small follicles; 0.2 +/- 0.04, n = 9 in medium follicles; 0.18 +/- 0.04, n = 5 in large follicles). During the breeding season, no differences in the relative expression of the different splice variants were observed according to follicle size. In contrast, during anoestrus, LHR3 mRNA was significantly more abundant in large (6.0-6.5 mm) and medium (4.0-5.5 mm) than it was in small (2.5-3.5 mm) follicles. These results indicate that RNA alternative splicing plays a role in the seasonal and physiological control of LH receptor expression in theca cells.

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B Oussaid, P Lonergan, H Khatir, A Guler, D Monniaux, JL Touze, JF Beckers, Y Cognie and P Mermillod

A GnRH antagonist (Antarelix) was used to suppress endogenous pulsatile secretion of LH and delay the preovulatory LH surge in superovulated heifers to study the effect of a prolonged follicular phase on both follicle and oocyte quality. Oestrous cycles were synchronized in 12 heifers with progestagen (norgestomet) implants for 10 days. On day 4 (day 0 = day of oestrus), heifers were stimulated with 24 mg pFSH for 4 days and luteolysis was induced at day 6 with PGF2 alpha (2 ml Estrumate). Animals in the control group (n = 4) were killed 24 h after the last FSH injection. At this time, heifers in group A36h (n = 4) and group A60h (n = 4) were treated with 1.6 mg of Antarelix every 12 h for 36 and 60 h, respectively, and then killed. After dissection of ovarian follicles, oocytes were collected for individual in vitro maturation, fertilization and culture; follicular fluid was collected for determination of steroid concentrations, and granulosa cells were smeared, fixed and stained for evaluation of pycnosis rates. Granulosa cell smears showed that 90% of follicles were healthy in the control group. In contrast, 36 and 58% of the follicles in group A36h showed signs of early or advanced atresia, respectively, while 90% of the follicles in group A60h showed signs of late atresia. Intrafollicular concentrations of oestradiol decreased (P < 0.0001) from healthy follicles (799.14 +/- 40.65 ng ml-1) to late atretic follicles (3.96 +/- 0.59 ng ml-1). Progesterone concentrations were higher (P < 0.0001) in healthy follicles compared with atretic follicles, irrespective of degree of atresia. Oestradiol:progesterone ratios decreased (P < 0.0001) from healthy (4.58 +/- 0.25) to late atretic follicles (0.07 +/- 0.009). The intrafollicular concentrations of oestradiol and progesterone were significantly higher (P < 0.0001) in the control than in the treated groups. The oestradiol:progesterone ratio was higher (P < 0.0001) in the control (4.55 +/- 0.25) than in the A36h (0.40 +/- 0.05) and A60h (0.07 +/- 0.009) groups. Unexpectedly, the cleavage rate of fertilized oocytes, blastocyst rate and number of cells per blastocyst were not significantly different among control (85%, 41% and 95 +/- 8), A36h (86%, 56% and 93 +/- 5) and A60h (88%, 58% and 79 +/- 4) groups. In addition, there were no significant differences in the blastocyst rates from oocytes derived from healthy (45%), early atretic (54%), advanced atretic (57%) and late atretic follicles (53%). In conclusion, the maintenance of the preovulatory follicles in superovulated heifers with a GnRH antagonist induced more atresia and a decrease in oestradiol and progesterone concentrations. However, the developmental potential in vitro to day 8 of the oocytes recovered from these atretic follicles was not affected.