Follicle selection occurs throughout an adult female's reproductive life, with selected, dominant follicle(s) developing to the preovulatory stage whereas the remaining, subordinate follicles within the growing cohort instead undergo atresia and die. To date, most research into follicle dominance has concentrated on its endocrine regulation, although it seems likely that intraovarian mechanisms are also involved in its regulation. We demonstrate here that the response of singly cultured murine follicles to declining concentrations of FSH depends on their developmental stage, with follicles at an earlier stage of development being much more susceptible than mature follicles to a lowering of FSH levels. We then extrapolate this information to follicle cocultures, in which a large dominant follicle was grown with a small subordinate follicle in a manner that maintained a dominant/subordinate relationship, with follicle health assessed by a terminal transferase-mediated 2′-deoxyuracil 5′-triphosphate nick end-labeled reaction on whole-follicle mounts. Our investigations show a combined negative effect of coculture and FSH withdrawal on small subordinate follicles, such that subordinate follicles cocultured with dominant follicles and subjected to a lowering of FSH levels during the culture period exhibit a greatly increased incidence of apoptosis in the granulosa cells (750% increase) compared with that exhibited by the dominant follicles (97% increase). We suggest that a similar interaction between endocrine and intraovarian factors regulates follicular dominance in vivo, such that dominant follicles, in addition to bringing about a fall in FSH levels via the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, exert local, direct effects on subordinate follicles, with both of these influences combining to induce atresia in subordinate follicles.
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