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D Mattar, M Samir, M Laird and P G Knight

Angiogenesis plays an integral role in follicular and luteal development and is positively regulated by several intra-ovarian factors including vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) and fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2). Various transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) superfamily members function as intra-ovarian regulators of follicle and luteal function, but their potential roles in modulating ovarian angiogenesis have received little attention. In this study, we used a bovine theca interna culture model (exhibiting characteristics of luteinization) to examine the effects of TGF-β1 and bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6) on angiogenesis and steroidogenesis. VEGFA/FGF2 treatment promoted endothelial cell network formation but had little or no effect on progesterone and androstenedione secretion or expression of key steroidogenesis-related genes. TGF-β1 suppressed basal and VEGFA/FGF2-induced endothelial cell network formation and progesterone secretion, effects that were reversed by an activin receptor-like kinase 5 (ALK5) inhibitor (SB-431542). The ALK5 inhibitor alone raised androstenedione secretion and expression of several transcripts including CYP17A1. BMP6 also suppressed endothelial cell network formation under VEGFA/FGF2-stimulated conditions and inhibited progesterone secretion and expression of several steroidogenesis-related genes under basal and VEGFA/FGF2-stimulated conditions. These effects were reversed by an ALK1/2 inhibitor (K02288). Moreover, the ALK1/2 inhibitor alone augmented endothelial network formation, progesterone secretion, androstenedione secretion and expression of several steroidogenesis-related genes. The results indicate dual suppressive actions of both TGF-β1 and BMP6 on follicular angiogenesis and steroidogenesis. Further experiments are needed to unravel the complex interactions between TGF-β superfamily signalling and other regulatory factors controlling ovarian angiogenesis and steroidogenesis.

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S. M. Laird, C. F. Dalton, M. A. Okon, R. A. D. Bunning, R. Marshall and T. C. Li

The presence of metalloproteinase activity in endometrial flushings obtained from premenopausal women, during the proliferative and secretory phases of the menstrual cycle, control post-menopausal women and women with post-menopausal bleeding (PMB) with or without adenocarcinoma was analysed by zymography. In addition, quantitative measurements of matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP-2), MMP-3, MMP-9 and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase 1 (TIMP-1) in the flushings were obtained by ELISA. The zymography results showed eight bands of activity, with molecular weights ranging from 51 to 208 kDa in the flushings from pre-menopausal women and post-menopausal women, particularly those with adenocarcinoma. Both zymography and ELISA showed that MMP-2 and MMP-9 were the major metalloproteinases found in the flushings and only low concentrations of MMP-3 were found. Concentrations of MMP-2 in pre-menopausal women were higher in flushings obtained during the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle than those obtained in the proliferative phase (P < 0.05), suggesting that it may play a role in embryo implantation. Concentrations of MMP-2 (P < 0.001), MMP-9 (P <0.05) and TIMP-1 (P < 0.001) in the flushings from post-menopausal control women were lower than those from pre-menopausal women. Concentrations of MMP-2 (P < 0.05) and TIMP-1 (P < 0.05) were higher in flushings from women with PMB without carcinoma compared with post-menopausal controls and concentrations of MMP-9 (P < 0.01) and TIMP-1 (P < 0.05) in flushings from women with adenocarcinoma were higher than in post-menopausal controls. Among subjects with PMB, concentrations of MMP-9 in women with adenocarcinoma were higher than those without carcinoma (P < 0.05). Our results show that concentrations of MMP-2, MMP-9 and TIMP-1, but not MMP-3, are associated with endometrial activity and, therefore, may have a role in the breakdown of endometrial tissue. In addition, the increased concentrations of MMP-9 in flushings of women with adenocarcinoma indicate that this particular proteinase is associated with the presence of endometrial neoplastic cells.

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R S Robinson, K J Woad, A J Hammond, M Laird, M G Hunter and G E Mann

Ovarian function is dependent on the establishment and continual remodelling of a complex vascular system. This enables the follicle and/or corpus luteum (CL) to receive the required supply of nutrients, oxygen and hormonal support as well as facilitating the release of steroids. Moreover, the inhibition of angiogenesis results in the attenuation of follicular growth, disruption of ovulation and drastic effects on the development and function of the CL. It appears that the production and action of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) is necessary at all these stages of development. However, the expression of fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) in the cow is more dynamic than that of VEGFA with a dramatic upregulation during the follicular–luteal transition. This upregulation is then likely to initiate intense angiogenesis in the presence of high VEGFA levels. Recently, we have developed a novel ovarian physiological angiogenesis culture system in which highly organised and intricate endothelial cell networks are formed. This system will enable us to elucidate the complex inter-play between FGF2 and VEGFA as well as other angiogenic factors in the regulation of luteal angiogenesis. Furthermore, recent evidence indicates that pericytes might play an active role in driving angiogenesis and highlights the importance of pericyte–endothelial interactions in this process. Finally, the targeted promotion of angiogenesis may lead to the development of novel strategies to alleviate luteal inadequacy and infertility.