Endothelin-converting enzyme 1 (ECE-1) is a key enzyme in the biosynthesis of endothelin 1 (ET-1), a potent regulator of ovarian function. Different ECE-1 isoforms are localized in distinct intracellular compartments. Thus, the spatial and temporal pattern of ECE-1 expression determines the site of big ET-1 activation and the bioavailability of ET-1. This study was undertaken to investigate the hormonal regulation and cell-specific expression of ECE-1 isoforms in endothelial and steroidogenic cells of bovine follicles and corpora lutea (CL). Using enriched follicular and luteal cell subpopulations and in situ hybridization techniques, we showed that the ECE-1 gene is expressed by both endothelial and steroidogenic cells; however, the intracellular ECE-1a isoform was present only in ET-1-expressing endothelial cells. Steroidogenic cells in follicles or in CL, deficient in ET-1, expressed only the plasma membrane ECE-1b isoform. The intensity of antisense ECE-1 labeling in the granulosa cell layer increased with follicular size; insulin-like growth factor I and insulin upregulated ECE-1 expression when cultured with granulosa cells, suggesting that these growth factors may increase ECE-1 in growing follicles. In contrast, ET-1 and LH downregulated ECE-1 in steroidogenic cells. This effect could account for low ECE (and ET-1) levels, which characterize the early luteal phase. These findings suggest that ECE-1 is regulated during different stages of the cycle in a physiologically relevant manner. The hormonal regulation and intracellular localization of bovine ECE-1 isoforms revealed in this study may provide new insights into ET-1 biosynthesis and mode of action in different cellular microenvironments within the ovary.
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