Liver receptor homologue 1 (LRH-1) is a member of the nuclear receptor superfamily originally found in liver cells. LRH-1 participates in regulation of cholesterol metabolism and bile acid synthesis. Recent studies have shown that LRH-1 is even more highly expressed in the ovary, and LRH-1 has been implicated as a key transcriptional regulator of cytochrome P450 aromatase (P450arom) in vitro. In the present study, we investigated the spatiotemporal expression patterns of LRH-1 using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry in ovaries from rats with a 4-day estrous cycle, from pregnant rats, from immature rats treated with eCG to stimulate follicular development, and from eCG-treated rats that were subsequently given hCG to stimulate ovulation and luteinization. To establish a potential connection between the expression of LRH-1 and that of the steroidogenic genes in vivo, we directly compared the localization patterns of LRH-1 and P450arom transcripts in consecutive ovarian sections from these animals. LRH-1 mRNA and protein were primarily localized to granulosa cells and luteinized follicles or newly formed corpora lutea (CLs) of immature and adult rats, and the levels of expression increased during eCG-hCG-induced follicular development and ovulation. In the functional CLs of pregnant rats, a biphasic change in LRH-1 mRNA content occurred throughout the gestation process, whereas LRH-1 protein was persistently detected during the entire pregnancy. In the consecutive ovarian sections, expression of LRH-1 was approximately colocalized with that of P450arom in both tertiary and Graafian follicles and the functional CLs of pregnant rats. LRH-1 mRNA and protein expression preceded those of P450arom during early follicular development. Stage-specific expression of LRH-1 in rat granulosa and luteal cells suggests a role for LRH-1 in the regulation of ovarian function. The overlapping but distinct expression patterns of LRH-1 and P450arom circumstantially support the recent finding that LRH-1 serves as a critical upstream regulator of P450arom gene expression in ovarian cells, but LRH-1 also may be a multifunctional steroidogenic factor in ovarian physiology.
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