The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of inhibin A in follicular development and apoptosis-related mechanisms in preantral and early antral follicles from prepubertal diethylstilbestrol (DES)-treated rats. Granulosa cells isolated from the ovaries of 23- to 25-day-old rats were cultured in serum-free medium containing FSH (20 ng/ml), transforming growth factor β (5 ng/ml), and estradiol (50 ng/ml) in the presence or absence of different concentrations of recombinant human inhibin A. 3H-Thymidine incorporation was decreased in the presence of Inh, but no significant changes were observed in progesterone and estradiol levels in culture medium. An increase in low molecular weight DNA fragmentation indicative of apoptosis and an increase in the levels of Bax protein with no changes in Bcl-2 protein levels were evident in early antral follicles incubated for 24 h with Inh. For each animal, Inh (0.5 μg/ovary) was injected intrabursally in one ovary, and the contralateral ovary served as a control. Ovarian histology revealed an inhibitory effect of Inh treatment on the follicular development induced by DES. At 24 h after Inh injection, the number of preantral follicles was increased compared with controls, whereas the number of early antral follicles was decreased. In addition, in vivo Inh treatment caused an increase in the percentage of apoptotic cells in preantral and early antral follicles. These results suggest that inhibin produced by the dominant follicle may act as a paracrine factor inhibiting the growth of neighboring follicles, thus participating in the mechanism of follicular selection.
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