Growth differentiation factor-9 (GDF-9) and stem cell factor (SCF) influence follicle formation beyond the primary stage; however, factors influencing the formation of primordial follicles remain elusive. To determine whether GDF-9 and SCF promoted primordial follicle formation during ovarian morphogenesis in the hamster, and whether FSH had any modulatory influence, fetal ovaries were collected on Gestation Day 15 from pregnant hamsters treated with or without an FSH antiserum on Gestation Day 12 and cultured in vitro up to Day 9 with SCF, GDF-9, or FSH. The percentages and diameters of primordial, primary, and secondary follicles and their oocytes were determined by morphometric evaluation, and the expression of GDF-9 was detected by immunolocalization. SCF, GDF-9, and FSH promoted primordial and primary follicle formation, but GDF-9 was more efficient. The diameters of the follicles developed under GDF-9 or FSH, but not SCF, compared well with those developed in vivo. FSH- and GDF-9-induced folliculogenesis was attenuated by the SCF antibody. Similarly, in vitro formation of primordial follicles decreased markedly in ovaries exposed to the FSH antiserum in utero, which was reversed by SCF, GDF-9, or FSH; however, GDF-9 had a profound effect on follicular development. GDF-9 protein appeared exclusively in the oocytes on Postnatal Day 4; however, it appeared in vitro by 48 h, and the expression was upregulated by FSH. These results suggest that although SCF-induced primordial follicle formation constitutes primarily somatic cell development, GDF-9 influences both the oocyte and its companion somatic cells. FSH plays an important role in primordial folliculogenesis in the hamster via GDF-9 and SCF.
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