To investigate the potential roles of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in ovarian granulosa cell differentiation, we studied the interactive effects of FSH and local ovarian factors, transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) and androstenedione, on gelatinase secretion and progesterone production in rat ovarian granulosa cells. Granulosa cells of eCG-primed immature rats were treated once with various doses of FSH and TGFβ1 and androstenedione alone or in combinations for 2 days. Conditioned media were analyzed for gelatinase activity using gelatin-zymography/densitometry and progesterone levels using enzyme immunoassay. Cell lysates were analyzed for steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) and cholesterol side-chain-cleavage (P450scc) enzyme protein levels. This study demonstrates for the first time that FSH dose-dependently increased the secretion of a major 63-kDa gelatinase and minor 92- and 67-kDa gelatinases. TGFβ1 also dose-dependently increased the secretion of 63-kDa gelatinase, while androstenedione alone had no effect. The 92-kDa gelatinase was identified as the pro-MMP9 that could be cleaved by aminophenylmercuric acetate into the 83-kDa active form. Importantly, we show that TGFβ1 and androgen act in an additive manner to enhance FSH stimulatory effects both on the secretion of gelatinases and the production of progesterone. We further show by immunoblotting that the enhancing effect of TGFβ1 and androstenedione on FSH-stimulated steroidogenesis is partly mediated through the increased level of StAR protein and/or P450scc enzyme. In conclusion, this study indicates that, during antral follicle development, TGFβ1 and androgen act to enhance FSH promotion of granulosa cell differentiation and that the process may involve the interplay of modulating cell- to-matrix/cell-to-cell interaction and steroidogenic activity.
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