The CCAAT/enhancer binding protein (CEBP) family of transcription factors includes five genes. In the ovary, both Cebpa and Cebpb are essential for granulosa cell function. In this study we have explored the role of the Cebpd gene in ovarian physiology by expression and functional studies. Here we report that Cebpd (C/EBPδ) is expressed in the mouse ovary in a highly restricted temporal and spatial pattern. In response to luteinizing hormone (LH/hCG), CEBPD expression is transiently induced in interstitial cells and in theca cells of follicles from the primary to pre-ovulatory stage, and overlaps in part with expression of the alpha-smooth muscle actin protein. Efficient down-regulation of CEBPD was dependent on a functional Cebpb gene. Proliferating human theca cells in culture also express Cebpd. Cells from patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) exhibited higher Cebpd expression levels. However, deletion of Cebpd in mice had no overt effect on ovarian physiology and reproductive function. Very little is known at present about the molecular mechanisms underlying theca/ interstitial cell functions. The expression pattern of CEBPD reported here identifies a novel functional unit of mouse theca cells of primary through tertiary follicles responding to LH/hCG together with a subset of interstitial cells. This acute stimulation of CEBPD expression may be exploited to further characterize the hormonal regulation and function of theca and interstitial cells.
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