Growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) is a member of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFB) superfamily. As an oocyte-specific growth factor, GDF9 plays critical roles in controlling folliculogenesis in mammals. In the present study, we cloned a 2.1-kb cDNA of the zebrafish GDF9 homolog (Gdf9, gdf9), which shares ~60% homology with that of mammals in the mature region. RT-PCR analysis showed that zebrafish gdf9 expression was present only in the gonads and Northern blot analysis revealed a single transcript of about 2.0 kb in the ovary. Real-time RT-PCR analysis revealed that gdf9 expression was highest in primary growth (PG, stage I) follicles and gradually decreased during follicular development, with the lowest level being found in fully grown (FG) follicles. The expression of gdf9 was maintained through fertilization and early embryonic development until gastrulation, at which point the expression level dramatically decreased. Expression was barely detectable after the late gastrula stage. Within the follicle, gdf9 mRNA was localized exclusively in the oocytes, as demonstrated by RT-PCR of denuded oocytes and freshly isolated follicle layers as well as by in situ hybridization. Interestingly, when amplified for high numbers of cycles, the expression of gdf9 was detected in cultured zebrafish follicular cells that were free of oocytes. The expression of gdf9 was downregulated by hCG in both ovarian fragments and isolated follicles in dose- and time-dependent manners, and this inhibition appeared to be stage-dependent, with the strongest inhibition observed for the FG follicles and no effect seen for the PG follicles. This correlates well with the expression profile of the LH receptor (lhcgr) in zebrafish follicles. In conclusion, as an oocyte-derived growth factor, GDF9 is highly conserved across vertebrates. With its biological advantages, zebrafish provides an alternative model for studying gene function and regulation.
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Vol. 76 • No. 2