Several members of the neurotrophin (NT) family, including nerve growth factor (NGF), NT-3, and NT-4/5, are expressed in the mammalian ovary. As their respective receptor tyrosine kinases are also found in the gland, the possibility exists that NTs act directly on the gonads to exert effects unrelated to their support of the ovarian innervation. We now report that trkA, the NGF receptor tyrosine kinase, is involved in the acute activational process that leads to the first ovulation. The trkA gene becomes transiently expressed in periovulatory follicles at the time of the first preovulatory surge of gonadotropins at puberty; the increase in trkA messenger RNA (mRNA) con tent is dramatic (>100-fold), but transient (~9 h). No such changes in trkB or trkC mRNA were observed; the abundance of these mRNAs, which encode the receptor tyrosine kinases for NT-4/5 and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and NT-3, respectively, remained at very low levels throughout puberty. In vivo and in vitro experiments demonstrated that the activation of trkA gene expression is brought about by the proestrous discharge of LH. The increase in trkA mRNA levels is mainly localized to cells of the follicular wall and interstitial tissue of the ovary. NGF mRNA abundance also increases at proestrus, with peak values detected about 5 h before ovulation; as in the case of trkA mRNA, NGF mRNA was found in thecal-interstitial cells. Both trkA and NGF protein, detected by immunohistochemistry, were localized to this same ovarian compartment. Interleukin-1β (IL-1β), a putative mediator of LH action, enhances both trkA and NGF gene expression in ovarian cells, an effect prevented by IL-1ra, a natural IL-1β receptor antagonist. IL-1β also stimulates PGE2 release, and this effect was inhibited by both NGF antibodies and a trk receptor blocker; NGF antibodies administered in vivo attenuated the increase in ovarian PGE2 synthesis that antedates ovulation. Immunoneutralization of NGF action or pharmacological blockade of trk tyrosine kinase activity targeted to one ovary resulted in the ipsilateral inhibition of ovulation. The remarkably narrow time frame of trkA gene activation at the completion of follicular growth suggests that NGF acting as a neuroendocrinotrophic factor in a developmentally restricted manner contributes to the acute cytodifferentiation process that leads to the first ovulation in mammals.
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