Growth differentiation factor-9 (GDF-9), a member of the transforming growth factor superfamily, modulates the development and function of granulosa and theca cells. Targeted deletion of GDF-9 in the mouse revealed that GDF-9 was essential for the establishment of the thecal cell layer during early folliculogenesis. During later stages of follicular development, the roles of GDF-9 are less well understood, but it has been postulated that oocyte-derived GDF-9 may prevent premature luteinization of follicular cells, based on its ability to modulate steroidogenesis by rodent ovarian cells. In the rodent, GDF-9 is expressed solely by the oocyte from the early primary follicular stage through ovulation. Recent studies in the rhesus monkey demonstrated that granulosa cells express GDF-9, suggesting a broader role for this protein in ovarian function in primates. We examined the effect of recombinant GDF-9 on proliferating human granulosa and thecal cell steroidogenesis and the expression of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), P450 side-chain cleavage, and P450 aromatase. We also examined granulosa cell GDF-9 expression by quantitative RT-PCR and by Western analysis. GDF-9 inhibited 8-Br-cAMP-stimulated granulosa progesterone synthesis by approximately 40%, but did not affect basal progesterone production. Concordant with reduced steroid production, 8-Br-cAMP-stimulated StAR protein expression was reduced approximately 40% in granulosa cells, as were expression of StAR mRNA and StAR promoter activity. Additionally, GDF-9 inhibited 8-Br-cAMP-stimulated expression of P450 side-chain cleavage and P450 aromatase. Human granulosa cells expressed GDF-9, as determined by RT-PCR and Western analysis. Treatment of human thecal cells with GDF-9 blocked forskolin-stimulated progesterone, 17α-hydroxyprogesterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone synthesis. Thecal cells exhibited greater sensitivity to GDF-9, suggesting that this cell may be a primary target of GDF-9. Moreover, GDF-9 increased thecal cell numbers during culture, but had no effect on granulosa cell growth. Our findings implicate GDF-9 in the modulation of follicular steroidogenesis, especially theca cell function. Because GDF-9 mRNA and protein are detectable in granulosa-lutein cells after the LH surge, the concept of GDF-9 as a solely oocyte-derived luteinization inhibitor needs to be reevaluated.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Clinical Biochemistry
- Biochemistry, medical