Activation of trkA, the nerve growth factor (NGF) tyrosine kinase receptor, has been recently implicated in the process of mammalian ovulation. During the hour preceding follicular rupture, a marked increase in trkA and NGF gene expression occurs in thecal-interstitial cells of the ovary. Immunoneutralization of NGF actions or pharmacological blockade of trkA transducing activity inhibits ovulation, suggesting that activation of the NGF-trkA complex in nonneural cells of the periovulatory follicle is a physiological component of the ovulatory cascade. As thecal cells of Graafian follicles are functionally coupled by gap junctions, and the ovulatory rupture requires dissociation of thecal cell-cell communication, we sought to determine whether NGF affects the integrity of this communication. We now report that NGF-induced activation of trkA receptors in isolated ovarian thecal cells disrupts cell to cell communication by affecting the functional integrity of gap junctions. Bovine thecal cells expressing trkA receptors, but not cells lacking the receptors, respond to NGF with a reduction in the transfer of calcein, a fluorescent dye that passes through gap junctions. This effect was associated with a rapid (10-30 min) increase in serine phosphorylation of connexin-43, the main protein constituent of gap junctions in the ovary. The reduction in dye transfer was not observed when the cells were exposed to epidermal growth factor or other neurotrophins, including neurotrophin 3, neurotrophin 4, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Thus, cell-specific activation of trkA receptors in periovulatory follicles may provide one of the signals involved in inducing the cellular dissociation of the follicular wall that precedes ovulatory rupture.
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