In mice deficient in progesterone receptor (PR), follicles of ovulatory size develop but fail to ovulate, providing evidence for an essential role for progesterone and PR in ovulation in mice. However, little is known about the expression and regulation of PR mRNA in preovulatory follicles of ruminant species. One objective of this study was to determine whether and when PR mRNA is expressed in bovine follicular cells during the periovulatory period. Luteolysis and the LH/FSH surge were induced with prostaglandin F2α and a GnRH analogue, respectively, and the preovulatory follicle was obtained at 0, 3.5, 6, 12, 18, or 24 h after GnRH treatment. RNase protection assays revealed a transient increase in levels of PR mRNA, which peaked at 6 h after GnRH and declined to the time 0 value by 12 h and a second increase at 24 h. The second objective was to investigate the mechanisms that regulate PR mRNA expression through in vitro studies on follicular cells of preovulatory follicles obtained before the LH/FSH surge. Theca and granulosa cells were isolated and cultured with or without a luteinizing dose of LH or FSH, progesterone, LH progesterone, or LH antiprogestin (RU486). Levels of PR mRNA increased in a time-dependent manner in granulosa cells cultured with LH or FSH and in theca cells cultured with LH, peaking at 10 h of culture. In contrast, progesterone (200 ng/ml) did not upregulate mRNA for its own receptor, and neither progesterone nor RU486 affected LH-stimulated PR mRNA accumulation. Furthermore, RU486 completely blocked LH-stimulated expression of oxytocin mRNA, indicating that PR induced by LH in vitro is functional. These results show that the gonadotropin surge induces a rapid and transient increase in expression of PR mRNA in both theca and granulosa cells of bovine periovulatory follicles followed by a second rise close to the time of ovulation and that the first increase in PR mRNA can be mimicked in vitro by gonadotropins but not by progesterone. These results suggest multiple and time-dependent roles for progesterone and PR in the regulation of periovulatory events in cattle.
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