Development of ovarian follicles is regulated by pituitary-derived gonadotropins together with local ovarian paracrine factors. Based on DNA microarray data, we performed RT-PCR and immunostaining to demonstrate the expression of interleukin 7 transcripts in oocytes of preantral, antral, and preovulatory follicles in rats. We also found the expression of interleukin 7 receptor and the coreceptor interleukin 2 receptor gamma in granulosa cells, cumulus cells, and preovulatory oocytes. In cultured rat granulosa cells obtained from early antral and preovulatory follicles, treatment with interleukin 7 stimulated the phosphorylation of AKT, glycogen synthase kinase (GSK3B), and STAT5 proteins in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, measurement of mitochondrial reductase activity indicated that treatment with interleukin 7, similar to gonadotropins, increased the number of viable granulosa cells during a 24-h culture period. Furthermore, monitoring of the activities of apoptotic enzymes (caspase 3/7) indicated that treatment with interleukin 7 suppressed apoptosis of cultured granulosa cells from both antral and preovulatory follicles following serum withdrawal. The apoptosis-suppressing actions of interleukin 7 were blocked by an inhibitor of the phosphoinositol-3-kinase (PIK3)/AKT pathway. Furthermore, treatment of cultured preovulatory follicles with interleukin 7, like treatment with human chorionic gonadotropin, induced germinal vesicle breakdown of oocytes. The stimulatory effect of interleukin 7 was also blocked by inhibitors of the PIK3/AKT pathway. The present findings suggest that oocyte-derived interleukin 7 could act on neighboring granulosa cells as a survival factor and promote the nuclear maturation of preovulatory oocytes through activation of the PIK3/AKT pathway.
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Vol. 84 • No. 4