Connexin 43 (Cx43) and gap junctional coupling appear to play a critical role in early follicular development because absence of Cx43 disrupts progression of follicles beyond primary stages in transgenic mouse ovaries. Two experimental culture systems were used to determine whether epidermal growth factor (EGF) stimulates expression of Cx43 in early porcine follicular development. Ovarian explants were collected from 32- to 40-day-old gilts and cultured for 6 days on membrane inserts in Waymouth MB 752/1 medium supplemented with 0, 50, or 500 ng/ml mouse EGF. Western blot analysis demonstrated significant increases (P < 0.05) in relative amounts of Cx43 protein (both phosphorylated and nonphosphorylated) with 50 and 500 ng/ml of EGF as compared with control cultures. Preantral follicles were enzymatically isolated from 70- to 86-day-old gilts and cultured for 8 days in collagen matrices. Medium and EGF treatments were the same as previously described. Western blot analysis demonstrated a significant increase (P < 0.05) in relative amounts of Cx43 protein with 50 and 500 ng/ml of EGF as compared with control cultures. EGF increased expression of Cx43 protein in secondary preantral follicles in a dose-dependent manner, which suggests that EGF or similar growth factor molecules may modulate early folliculogenesis by stimulating expression of Cx43 gap junctions.
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