The regulation of preantral follicle growth in mammals is poorly understood. The availability of an adequate vascular supply to provide endocrine and paracrine signals may be important during the early states of follicle growth as well as the later states of follicle selection and dominance. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays a role in preantral follicular development in the rat ovary. Immature (age, 21 days) Sprague-Dawley rats were injected with 500 ng of VEGF in saline or 50 μg of diethylstilbestrol (DES) in oil under the bursa of one ovary. The contralateral ovary was injected with a corresponding volume of vehicle. Rats were killed 48 h later, and the ovaries were removed and analyzed histologically. Intrabursal administration of VEGF significantly increased the number of primary and small secondary, but not of large secondary, preantral follicles in the ovary, similar to the effect of DES (P < 0.05). The VEGF stimulated preantral follicle growth in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Subcutaneous DES administration increased the number of primary and secondary follicles, and both s.c. and intrabursal estrogen administration stimulated VEGF protein expression in the rat ovary. These data indicate that VEGF stimulates preantral follicular development in the rat ovary, is regulated by estrogen, and may be one of the factors that participate in the regulation of early follicle growth in the rat.
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