Although ovarian nerve growth factor (NGF) facilitates follicular development and ovulation, an excess of the neurotrophin in the rodent ovary reduces ovulatory capacity and causes development of precystic follicles. Here we show that ovarian NGF production is enhanced in patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and that transgenically driven overproduction of NGF targeted to the ovary results in cystic morphology, when accompanied by elevated LH levels. NGF levels are increased in the follicular fluid from PCOS ovaries and in the culture medium of granulosa cells from PCOS patients, as compared with non-PCOS patients. Ovaries from transgenic mice carrying the NGF gene targeted to thecal-interstitial cells by the 17α-hydroxylase gene promoter produce more NGF than wild-type (WT) ovaries and are hyperinnervated by sympathetic nerves. Antral follicle growth is arrested resulting in accumulation of intermediate size follicles, many of which are apoptotic. Peripubertal transgenic mice respond to a gonadotropin challenge with a greater increase in plasma 17-hydroxyprogesterone, estradiol, and testosterone levels than WT controls. Transgenic mice also exhibit a reduced ovulatory response, delayed puberty, and reduced fertility, as assessed by a prolonged interval between litters, and a reduced number of pups per litter. Sustained, but mild, elevation of plasma LH levels results in a heightened incidence of ovarian follicular cysts in transgenic mice as compared with WT controls. These results suggest that overproduction of ovarian NGF is a component of polycystic ovarian morphology in both humans and rodents and that a persistent elevation in plasma LH levels is required for the morphological abnormalities to appear.
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