Progress in research on initiation of folliculogenesis has progressed slowly because of a lack of markers for early folliculogenesis. The rabbit zona pellucida protein (ZP1) is synthesized in follicles during early stages of folliculogenesis. In order to establish ZP1 as a marker for initiation of folliculogenesis, in situ hybridization was used to localize ZP1 mRNA in immature follicles. ZP1 mRNA was first detected in oocytes of some but not all primordial follicles. The primordial follicles expressing ZP1 mRNA were located at the cortico-medullary junction, indicating that they were newly activated follicles. ZP1 mRNA accumulated in oocytes of intermediate, primary, and secondary follicles. In contrast, ZP1 mRNA was first detectable in granulosa cells of intermediate follicles and is present in cuboidal granulosa cells of primary and early secondary follicles, but was undetectable in granulosa cells of more mature follicles. These data demonstrate that 1) ZP1 mRNA is expressed in both oocytes and granulosa cells, 2) ZP1 mRNA is initially expressed in oocytes of activated follicles, and 3) ZP1 mRNA is transiently expressed in granulosa cells during early stages of folliculogenesis. Therefore, rabbit ZP1 is a molecular marker that can be used in future studies to measure initiation of folliculogenesis.
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