Spatiotemporal expression, endocrine regulation, and activation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in the hamster ovary were evaluated by immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization localization. Whereas granulosa cells (GC) of primordial through large preantral (stage 6, 7–8 layers GC) follicles had low immunoreactivity, granulosa cells of antral follicles, theca, and interstitial cells had intense EGFR immunoreactivity. EGFR expression in GC of primordial and small preantral follicles increased progressively from estrous through proestrous, but a significant increase occurred in mural GC of antral follicles following the gonadotropin surge. Interstitial cells around small preantral follicles had strong immunofluorescence, and the intensity increased significantly in fully differentiated thecal cells. Distinct EGFR protein was localized in the nucleus of the oocytes and granulosa cells. FSH significantly stimulated EGFR expression in the GC, especially the mural GC, theca, and interstitial cells in hypophysectomized hamster. Estrogen stimulated EGFR expression in preantral GC as well as in interstitial cells. Progesterone and hCG effect was limited to theca and interstitial cells. EGFR expression correlated well with EGFR activation following endogenous or exogenous gonadotropin exposure. Receptor mRNA expression closely followed the protein expression, with increased mRNA expression in mural GC of antral follicles. These results suggest that low levels of EGF signal as a consequence of low levels of receptors in preantral GC may be critical for cell proliferation, but higher receptor density may evoke increased signal intensity due to activation of other intracellular signal pathways, which activate cellular processes related to granulosa, theca, and interstitial cell differentiation. The spatiotemporal cell type and follicle stage-specific expression of receptor mRNA and protein and EGFR activation is critically regulated by gonadotropins and ovarian steroids, primarily estradiol.
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