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Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2001 Dec 20;185(1-2):51-9.

Intra-follicular activin availability is altered in prenatally-androgenized lambs.

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The University of Michigan, Reproductive Sciences Program, 300 N. Ingalls Building, Room. 1101, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0404, USA.


Prenatal exposure of sheep to testosterone (T) disrupts ovarian cyclicity and leads to anovulation in adulthood. We propose that the disruption of ovarian function in prenatally-androgenized sheep is mediated via follicular defects stemming from reduced intrafollicular activin availability/action. The intra-follicular activin availability/action that facilitates follicular development is dictated by the relative proportions of activins, inhibins (antagonists of activin action) and follistatins (FS; binding proteins of activin and negator of activin action). Inhibin alpha, beta A, beta B, and FS mRNA expression were determined by in situ hybridization in 5 week-old ovaries from control (C) lambs or those exposed to testosterone (T) or DHT from 30-90 days of gestation. In utero exposure to T, but not DHT, increased total ovarian weight (0.4+/-0.1,1.5+/-0.5 and 0.3+/-0.1 g, C, T and DHT, respectively) and total number of follicles (16.5+/-2.8,37.8+/-7.9, and 18.8+/-3.0). With the exception of two follicles in T animals, all follicles were < or = 2 mm in diameter. All follicles < or = 2 mm in all groups expressed FSH receptor mRNA in the granulosa cells and LH receptor only in the thecal cells. The percentage of follicles expressing FS mRNA was increased (P<0.05) in sheep prenatally-androgenized with either T (80.4+/-8) or DHT (80.3+/-5.5) as compared to C (50.8+/-8.2). In contrast, the percentage of follicles expressing activin beta B mRNA tended to be lower (P=0.06) in the T (30.9+/-7.1) and DHT (40.5+/-3.3) groups as compared to C (66.1+/-15.6). Increased expression of FS along with the reduced expression of activin beta B mRNA provides evidence for compromised intra-follicular activin availability in the majority of follicles in the androgenized groups. The increase in ovarian weight and follicular number in the T, but not in the DHT group, suggests that the effects of T are mediated through the action of estrogen. We speculate that the decrease in relative abundance of activin may contribute to the selection defects in prenatally-androgenized sheep. If true, this may be a useful model to understand the etiology of polycystic ovarian syndrome.

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