Prenatal testosterone excess programs an array of adult reproductive disorders including luteinizing hormone excess, functional hyperandrogenism, neuroendocrine defects, polycystic ovarian morphology, and corpus luteum dysfunction, culminating in early reproductive failure. Polycystic ovarian morphology originates from enhanced follicular recruitment and follicular persistence. We tested to determine whether prenatal testosterone treatment, by its androgenic actions, enhances follicular recruitment, causes early depletion of follicular reserve, and disrupts the ovarian architecture. Pregnant sheep were given twice-weekly injections of testosterone or dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a nonaromatizable androgen, from Days 30 to 90 of gestation. Ovaries were obtained from Day-90 and Day-140 fetuses, and from 10-mo-old females during a synchronized follicular phase (n = 5–9 per treatment). Stereological techniques were used to quantify changes in ovarian follicle/germ cell populations. Results revealed no differences in numbers of oocytes and follicles between the three groups on Fetal Day 90. Greater numbers of early growing follicles were found in prenatal testosterone- and DHT-treated fetuses on Day 140. Increased numbers of growing follicles and reduced numbers of primordial follicles were found in 10-mo-old, prenatal testosterone-treated females, but not in those treated with DHT. Antral follicles of prenatal testosterone-treated females, but not those treated with DHT, manifested several abnormalities, which included the appearance of hemorrhagic and luteinized follicles and abnormal early antrum formation. Both treatment groups showed morphological differences in the rete ovarii. These findings suggest that increased follicular recruitment and morphologic changes in the rete ovarii of prenatal testosterone-treated females are facilitated by androgenic programming, but that postpubertal follicular growth, antral follicular disruptions, and follicular depletion largely occur through estrogenic programming.
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Vol. 80 • No. 4