In the rat ovary, germ and somatic cells become organized into primordial follicles 48-72 h after birth. Although several genes have been implicated in the control of early follicular growth, less is known about the factors involved in the formation of primordial follicles. Using the method of differential display of mRNAs, we found several genes differentially expressed at the time of follicular assembly. One of them encodes synaptonemal complex protein-1 (SCP1), a core component of the protein complex that maintains recombining chromosomes together during prophase I of the first meiotic division in germ cells. This association, evident during the pachytene stage, ends when chromosomal desynapsis begins in the diplotene stage at the end of prophase I. Oocytes become arrested in the diplotene/dictate stage before becoming enclosed into primordial follicles, suggesting that oocytes must complete meiotic prophase I before becoming competent to direct follicle assembly. We now show that attainment of the diplotene stage results in follicular formation. In developing rat ovaries, SCP1mRNAexpression is confined to oocytes and decreases precipitously within 24 h after birth, preceding the organization of primordial follicles. The premature loss of SCP1, achieved via treatment with an antisense oligodeoxynucleotide targeting SCP1 mRNA, resulted in more oocytes reaching the diplotene stage, as evidenced by a decrease in the number of oocytes containing germ cell nuclear antigen-1 (a nuclear protein whose expression ceases in diplotene) and an increase in the number of oocytes expressing MSY2 (a cytoplasmic Y box protein expressed in oocytes that have become arrested in diplotene). SCP1-deficient ovaries exhibited an increased number of newly formed follicles, suggesting that completion of meiotic prophase I endows oocytes with the ability to orchestrate follicular assembly.
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