Limits to estrogen production by early and late preovulatory porcine follicles were assessed by comparing enzymatic capacities for androgen (17,20-lyase) and estrogen (aromatase) synthesis in theca interna and granulosa, support of enzyme activities by the redox partner proteins NADPH-cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase (reductase) and cytochrome b5, and tissue-specific expression and regulation of these proteins. Parameters included follicular fluid (FF) estradiol and progesterone levels, theca and granulosa aromatase and reductase activities, and theca 17,20-lyase activity. Expression of proteins responsible for these activities, aromatase (P450arom) and 17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase (P450c17) cytochromes P450, reductase, and for the first time in ovarian tissues cytochrome b5, were examined by Western immunoblot and immunocytochemistry. Theca and granulosa aromatase activities were as much as 100-fold lower than theca 17,20-lyase activity, but aromatase was correlated with only the log of FF estradiol. Granulosa reductase activity was twice that of the theca, and cytochrome b5 expression was clearly identified in both the theca and granulosa layers, as was P450arom, but was not highly correlated with either 17,20-lyase or aromatase activities. Reductase expression did not change with stage of follicular development, but cytochrome b5, P450c17, and P450arom were markedly lower in post-LH tissues. These data indicate that aromatase and not 17,20-lyase must limit porcine follicular estradiol synthesis, but this limitation is not reflected acutely in FF steroid concentrations. Neither reductase nor cytochrome b5 appear to regulate P450 activities, but the expression of cytochrome b5 in granulosa and theca suggests possible alternative roles for this protein in follicular development or function.
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