Hyperthermia or heat stress (HS) occurs when heat dissipation mechanisms are overwhelmed by external and internal heat production. Hyperthermia negatively affects reproduction and potentially compromises oocyte integrity and reduces developmental competence of ensuing embryos. Autophagy is the process by which cells recycle energy through the reutilization of cellular components and is activated by a variety of stressors. Study objectives were to characterize autophagyrelated proteins in the ovary following cyclical HS during the follicular phase. Twelve gilts were synchronized and subjected to cyclical HS (n = 6) or thermal neutral (n = 6) conditions for 5 days during the follicular phase. Ovarian protein abundance of Beclin 1 and microtubule associated protein light chain 3 beta II were each elevated as a result of HS (P = 0.001 and 0.003, respectively). The abundance of the autophagy related (ATG)12–ATG5 complex was decreased as a result of HS (P = 0.002). Regulation of autophagy and apoptosis occurs in tight coordination, and B-cell lymphoma (BCL)2 and BCL2L1 are involved in regulating both processes. BCL2L1 protein abundance, as detected via immunofluorescence, was increased in both the oocyte (∼1.6-fold; P < 0.01) and granulosa cells of primary follicles (∼1.4-fold P < 0.05) of HS ovaries. These results suggest that ovarian autophagy induction occurs in response to HS during the follicular phase, and that HS increases anti-apoptotic signaling in oocytes and early follicles. These data contribute to the biological understanding of how HS acts as an environmental stress to affect follicular development and negatively impact reproduction.
Heat stress induces autophagy in the pig ovary during the follicular stage, and autophagy is a potential mechanism by which the ovary mitigates cellular stress.