We have examined the expression and regulation of the two estrogen receptor (ERα and ERβ) genes in the rat ovary, using Northern blotting, RT- PCR, and in situ hybridization histochemistry. Northern blotting results show that the ovary expresses both ERα and ERβ genes as single (~6.5-kb) and multiple (ranging from ~1.0-kb to ~10.0-kb) transcripts, respectively. ERα mRNA is expressed at a level lower than ERβ mRNA in immature rat ovaries. This relationship appears unchanged between sexually mature adult rats and immature rats. In sexually mature adult rats undergoing endogenous hormonal changes, whole ovarian content of ERβ mRNA, as determined by RT-PCR, remained more or less constant with the exception of the evening of proestrus when ERβ mRNA levels were decreased. Examination of ERβ mRNA expression at the cellular level, by in situ hybridization, showed that ERβ mRNA is expressed preferentially in granulosa cells of small, growing, and preovulatory follicles, although weak expression of ERβ mRNA was observed in a subset of corpora lutea, and that the decrease in ERβ mRNA during proestrous evening is attributable, at least in part, to down-regulation of ERβ mRNA in the preovulatory follicles. This type of expression and regulation was not typical for ERα mRNA in the ovary. Although whole ovarian content of ERα mRNA was clearly detected by RT-PCR, no apparent modulation of ERα mRNA levels was observed during the estrous cycle. Examination of ERα mRNA expression at the cellular level, by in situ hybridization, showed that ERα mRNA is expressed at a low level throughout the ovary with no particular cellular localization. To further examine the potential role of the preovulatory pituitary gonadotropins in regulating ERβ mRNA expression in the ovary, we used immature rats treated with gonadotropins. In rats undergoing exogenous hormonal challenges, whole ovarian content of ERβ mRNA, as determined by RT-PCR, remained more or less unchanged after an injection of PMSG. In contrast, a subsequent injection of human CG (hCG) resulted in a substantial decrease in whole ovarian content of ERβ mRNA. In situ hybridization for ERβ mRNA shows that small, growing, and preovulatory follicles express ERβ mRNA in the granulosa cells. The preovulatory follicles contain ERβ mRNA at a level lower than that observed for small and growing follicles. In addition, there is an abrupt decrease in ERβ mRNA expression in the preovulatory follicles after hCG injection. The inhibitory effect of hCG on ERβ mRNA expression was also observed in cultured granulosa cells. Moreover, agents stimulating LH/CG receptor-associated intracellular signaling pathways (forskolin and a phorbol ester) readily mimicked the effect of hCG in down-regulating ERβ mRNA in cultured granulosa cells. Taken together, our results demonstrate that 1) the ovary expresses both ERα and ERβ genes, although ERβ is the predominant form of estrogen receptor in the ovary, 2) ERβ mRNA is localized predominantly to the granulosa cells of small, growing, and preovulatory follicles, and 3) the preovulatory LH surge down-regulates ERβ mRNA. These results clearly implicate the physiological importance of ERβ in female reproductive functions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology