A local autocrine/paracrine role for progesterone is an absolute requirement for corpus luteum formation in primates. Despite this, the mechanism(s) remain obscure, although existing data suggest an anti-apoptotic action to be central. There are a limited number of progestin-regulated gene targets identified in the luteinizing primate follicle, suggesting that a small number of important genes may mediate progesterone action. Possible gene targets could be the epidermal growth factor (EGF) family members amphiregulin (AREG) and epiregulin (EREG). Using macaques undergoing controlled ovarian stimulation cycles, we show that the phosphorylation of EGF receptor (EGFR), ERK 1/2, and AKT increases 6 h after an ovulatory human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) stimulus and remains activate through 24 h. Immunoreactive EREG and AREG ligands in the follicular fluid both increased in a time frame commensurate with EGFR phosphorylation. The mRNA expression of AREG and EREG in nonluteinized granulosa cells (NLGC) was induced in culture with hCG, an effect blocked by progesterone receptor (PGR) antagonists. Overexpression of PGR B in NLGC and treatment with a nonmetabolizable progestin did not increase either gene, indicating both progesterone and luteinizing hormone/CG are necessary. Addition of EGF and EGF-like ligands did not promote steroidogenesis in vitro by granulosa cells in the presence of gonadotropin, but were able to partially reverse RU486-induced cell death. These data suggest that progesterone promotes the expression of AREG and EREG, which in turn maintain viability of luteinizing granulosa cells, representing one possible mechanism whereby progesterone promotes corpus luteum formation in the primate.
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Vol. 88 • No. 1