The ovary contains a pool of primordial follicles containing oocytes arrested in meiosis that are the source of developing follicles for the female. Growth and differentiation factor-9 (GDF-9) is a member of the transforming growth factor beta superfamily of growth factors, and follicles of GDF-9 knockout mice arrest in the primary stage of development. The effect of GDF-9 treatment on the primordial to primary follicle transition and on subsequent follicle progression was examined using a rat ovary organ culture system. Ovaries from 4-day-old rats were cultured under serum-free conditions in the absence or presence of growth factors. GDF-9 treatment caused a decrease in the proportion of stage 1 early primary follicles and a concomitant increase in the proportion of stage 2 mature primary follicles. GDF-9 did not effect primordial follicles or stage 0 to stage 1 follicle transition. GDF-9 also did not influence stage 3 or 4 secondary follicle numbers. Isolated antral follicle granulosa and theca cell cultures were used to analyze the actions of GDF-9. GDF-9 treatment did not directly influence either granulosa or theca cell proliferation. The ability of GDF-9 to influence the expression of another growth factor was examined. GDF-9 treatment increased kit ligand (KL) mRNA expression in bovine granulosa cells after 2 days of culture. Ovaries from 4-day-old rats were also cultured with or without GDF-9 treatment, and total ovary expression of KL mRNA was increased by GDF-9. In summary, GDF-9 was found to promote the progression of early primary follicle development but did not influence primordial follicle development. The actions of GDF-9 on specific stages of follicle development may in part be mediated through altering the expression of KL.
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