Several aspects of equine ovarian physiology are unique among domestic species. Moreover, follicular growth patterns are very similar between horses and humans. This study aimed to characterize, for the first time, global gene expression profiles associated with growth and preovulatory (PO) maturation of equine dominant follicles. Granulosa cells (GCs) and theca interna cells (TCs) were harvested from follicles (n = 5) at different stages of an ovulatory wave in mares corresponding to early dominance (ED; diameter ≥22 mm), late dominance (LD; ≥33 mm) and PO stage (34 h after administration of crude equine gonadotropins at LD stage), and separately analyzed on a horse gene expression microarray, followed by validation using quantitative PCR and immunoblotting/immunohistochemistry. Numbers of differentially expressed transcripts (DETs; ≥2-fold; P < 0.05) during the ED-LD and LD-PO transitions were 546 and 2419 in GCs and 5 and 582 in TCs. The most prominent change in GCs was the down-regulation of transcripts associated with cell division during both ED-LD and LD-PO. In addition, DET sets during LD-PO in GCs were enriched for genes involved in cell communication/adhesion, antioxidation/detoxification, immunity/inflammation, and cholesterol biosynthesis. In contrast, the largest change in TCs during the LD-PO transition was an up-regulation of genes involved in immune activation, with other DET sets mapping to GPCR/cAMP signaling, lipid/amino acid metabolism, and cell proliferation/survival and differentiation. In conclusion, distinct expression profiles were identified between growing and PO follicles and, particularly, between GCs and TCs within each stage. Several DETs were identified that have not been associated with follicle development in other species.
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Vol. 91 • No. 5