Experimental induction of a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in rodents by the administration of a single dose of estradiol valerate (EV) results in activation of the peripheral sympathetic neurons that innervate the ovary. This activation is evidenced by an increased capacity of ovarian nerve terminals to incorporate and release norepinephrine (NE), an increase in ovarian NE content, and a decrease in ovarianβ-adrenergic receptor number in the ovarian compartments receiving catecholaminergic innervation. The present experiments were undertaken to examine the functional consequences of this enhanced sympathetic outflow to the ovary. The steroidal responses of the gland toβ-adrenergic receptor stimulation and hCG were examined in vitro 60 days after EV administration, i.e. at the time when follicular cysts are well established. EV-treated rats exhibited a remarkable increase in ovarian progesterone and androgen responses to isoproterenol, aβ-adrenergic receptor agonist, with no changes in estradiol responsiveness. Basal estradiol release was, however, 50-fold higher than the highest levels released from normal ovaries at any phase of the estrous cycle. The ovarian progesterone and androgen responses to hCG were enhanced in EV-treated rats, as were the responses to a combination of isoproterenol and hCG. Transection of the superior ovarian nerve (SON), which carries most of the catecholaminergic fibers innervating endocrine ovarian cells, dramatically reduced the exaggerated responses of all three steroids to bothβ-adrenergic and gonadotropin stimulation. SON transection also reduced the elevated levels of ovarian NE resulting from EV treatment and caused up-regulation ofβ-adrenoreceptors. Most importantly, SON transection restored estrous cyclicity and ovulatory capacity. The results indicate that the increased output of ovarian steroids in PCOS is at least in part due to an enhanced responsiveness of the gland to both catecholaminergic and gonadotropin stimulation. The ability of SON transection to restore a normal response indicates that the alteration in steroid output results from a deranged activation of selective components of the noradrenergic innervation to the ovary. These findings support the concept that an alteration in the neurogenic control of the ovary contributes to the etiology of PCOS.
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