Progesterone-receptor (PR) stimulation promotes survival in rat and human periovulatory granulosa cells. To investigate the mechanisms involved, periovulatory rat granulosa cells were incubated in vitro with or without the PR-antagonist Org 31710. Org 31710 caused the expected increase in apoptosis, and expression profiling using cDNA microarray analysis revealed regulation of several groups of genes with functional and/or metabolic connections. This regulation included decreased expression of genes involved in follicular rupture, increased stress responses, decreased angiogenesis, and decreased cholesterol synthesis. A decreased cholesterol synthesis was verified in experiments with both rat and human periovulatory granulosa cells treated with the PR-antagonists Org 31710 or RU 486 by measuring incorporation of [14C]acetate into cholesterol, cholesterol ester, and progesterone. Correspondingly, specific inhibition of cholesterol synthesis in periovulatory rat granulosa cells using 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibitors (lovastatin, mevastatin, or simvastatin) increased apoptosis, measured as DNA fragmentation and caspase-3/7 activity. The increase in apoptosis caused by simvastatin was reversed by addition of the cholesterol synthesis-intermediary mevalonic acid. These results show that PR antagonists reduce cholesterol synthesis in periovulatory granulosa cells and that cholesterol synthesis is important for granulosa cell survival.
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