It is now well established that vertebrate ovarian follicles undergo atresia via apoptosis, a process that is initiated within the granulosa cell layer of undifferentiated follicles. Although the exact signals, membrane-bound receptors, and associated intracellular signaling pathways leading to apoptosis within granulosa cells have yet to be established, it is evident that multiple and redundant pathways exist. Fas, together with its ligand, has been the most commonly studied death-inducer in the mammalian ovary; however, nothing is currently known regarding expression of either Fas or the related tumor necrosis factor receptor type 1 (TNFR1), in avian species. Based on characterization of a chicken fas partial cDNA, which includes the entire death domain, the deduced amino acid sequence shows 37% identity (53% positive) to human Fas. Northern blot analysis demonstrates low expression of the 2.0-kilobase fas transcript in most tissues, including the granulosa layer, and highest levels are found in the spleen, theca tissue, and the postovulatory follicle. Significantly, fas and tnfr1 mRNA levels are higher in atretic follicles than in nonatretic, prehierarchal (3- to 8-mm diameter) follicles. Moreover, both fas and tnfr1 mRNA levels are up-regulated by twofold to eightfold in granulosa cells following plating in the presence of fetal bovine serum, with the most dramatic increase found in fas expression within prehierarchal follicle granulosa. Coculture with transforming growth factor (TGF) β attenuates this increase for both receptors, whereas cAMP attenuates only the up-regulation of fas. By comparison, treatment with TGFα enhances expression of tnfr1, but not fas, mRNA. Taken together, these data are the first to implicate fas as a mediator of granulosa cell apoptosis in a nonmammalian vertebrate, and to implicate the protein kinase A signaling pathway in down-regulating fas expression. In addition, data provided demonstrate the presence of multiple death domain-containing TNFR family members simultaneously expressed within hen granulosa cells, each of which may be regulated by separate signaling pathways.
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