The chemokine CXC motif ligand 12 (CXCL12) and its cognate receptor, CXCR4, have been implicated in the ovulatory process in various animal models. However, little is known about the expression and regulation of CXCL12 and CXCR4 and their functions during the ovulatory period in the human ovary. In this study, we characterized the expression patterns of CXCL12 and CXCR4 in preovulatory follicles collected before the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge and at defined hours after hCG administration in women with the regular menstrual cycle. The levels of mRNA and protein for CXCR4 were increased in granulosa cells of late ovulatory follicles, whereas CXCL 12 expression was constant in follicles throughout the ovulatory period. Both CXCR4 and CXCL12 were localized to a subset of leukocytes around and inside the vasculature of human preovulatory follicles. Using a human granulosa cell culture model, the regulatory mechanisms and functions of CXCL12 and CXCR4 expression were investigated. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) stimulated CXCR4 expression, whereas CXCL 12 expression was not affected, mimicking in vivo expression patterns. Both RU486 (progesterone receptor antagonist) and CoCl2 (HIFs activator) blocked the hCG-induced increase in CXCR4 expression, whereas AG1478 (EGFR inhibitor) had no effect. The treatment with CXCL12 had no effect on granulosa cell viability but decreased hCG-stimulated CXCR4 expression.
In conclusion, these results suggest that the CXCL12/CXCR4 system plays a role(s) in the LH surgeinduced follicular changes and infiltration of leukocytes in dominant follicles during the ovulatory period in humans.