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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1997 Aug;82(8):2720-5.

Expression of genes encoding corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), type 1 CRF receptor, and CRF-binding protein and localization of the gene products in the human ovary.

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Department of Reproductive Medicine, University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla 92093-0633, USA.


Recently, the presence of immunoreactive corticotropin-releasing factor (IrCRF) in the thecal-stromal cells of the human ovary and the ability of CRF to suppress estrogen production by human granulosa cells in vitro have been reported. To understand the functional role of ovarian CRF requires characterization of the human ovarian CRF system, which includes CRF, type 1 CRF receptor (CRF-R1), and the high affinity CRF-binding protein (CRF-BP). Accordingly, we have examined the ovarian CRF system and the cellular distribution of these proteins and their messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs) using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization, respectively. Normal ovaries from 10 premenopausal women undergoing hysterectomy with ovariectomy were used in the analyses. IrCRF and its mRNA were localized in thecal cells of small antral and mature follicles. A low abundance of IrCRF and mRNA was also detected in stromal cells of both stages of follicles. Expression of the gene encoding CRF was more prominent in mature follicles than in small antral follicles. CRF-R1 mRNA signal was found exclusively in thecal cells of mature follicles and moderately in small antral follicles. Granulosa cells were devoid of CRF and CRF-R1 mRNAs and proteins. The IrCRF-BP, but not its transcript, was detected in thecal cells and luman of capillary vessels of the thecal/stromal compartment of mature follicles. The absence of CRF-BP gene transcript in human ovarian follicles was confirmed by reverse transcription-PCR, indicating that the IrCRF-BP detected is not derived from the ovarian transcript and suggesting that the presence of IrCRF-BP and luman of capillary vessels in the thecal compartment originates from the peripheral circulation. Thecal cells of mature follicles, relative to those of small antral follicles, exhibited an intensive immunostaining and mRNA signal for 17 alpha-hydroxylase (P450c17) indicative of androgen biosynthesis. We conclude that the thecal compartment of the human ovary contains a CRF system endowed with CRF and CRF-R1 and the blood-derived CRF-BP. Granulosa cells are devoid of the CRF system. The parallel increases in intensity of CRF, CRF-R1, and 17 alpha-hydroxylase proteins and gene expression with follicular maturation suggest that the intraovarian CRF system may play an autocrine role in androgen biosynthesis with a downstream effect on estrogen production by the granulosa cells. The functionality of the ovarian CRF system may be conditioned by the relative presence of circulating CRF-BP by virtue of its ability to compete with CRF for the CRF receptor.

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