Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) 15 and growth differentiation factor (GDF) 9 are oocyte-secreted growth factors that are critical local regulators of ovarian function and may be involved in preovulatory cumulus expansion. As cumulus expansion occurs in response to the ovulatory surge, the present study was designed: 1) to investigate whether GDF9 and BMP15 are regulated by gonadotropins in the mouse ovary; and 2) to visualize changes in both GDF9 and BMP15 immunostaining in response to gonadotropins. Immature 21-day-old mice were sequentially treated with recombinant human FSH (r-hFSH), 5 IU daily, at Days 21, 22, and 23 of life, then injected with 5 IU hCG at Day 24 of life. In response to r-hFSH, steady-state Bmp15 mRNA expression levels increased in both total ovaries and cumulus-oocyte complexes, whereas Gdf 9 mRNA levels did not. In addition, BMP15 protein levels increased in total ovaries. The GDF9 immunostaining was exclusively seen in growing oocytes in both control and gonadotropin-treated mice, whereas that of BMP15, which was also primarily seen in growing oocytes, exhibited important changes in response to gonadotropins. Strong BMP15 immunostaining was observed in the follicular fluid of atretic antral follicles after FSH treatment and in expanded, but not in compact, cumulus cells after hCG. The present results show for the first time that BMP15 levels increase during gonadotropin-induced follicular development, in parallel with oocyte maturation, and that this local factor is likely involved in cumulus expansion as previously suggested by studies in Bmp15-null mice.
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