The importance of transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF alpha) in female reproductive development was assessed using transgenic mice bearing a human TGF alpha complementary DNA under the control of a mouse metallothionein-1 promoter (MT1-hTGF alpha). Examination of the brain and ovaries 5 h after a single sc injection of zinc chloride, administered to activate the MT1-hTGF alpha transgene, revealed that prominent sites of human TGF alpha messenger RNA expression within these tissues were the hypothalamus and ovarian follicles, respectively. In vitro experiments showed that acute transgene activation increased hypothalamic release of LH-releasing hormone. In contrast, the ovarian steroidal response to gonadotropins, examined in vitro, was markedly attenuated. Chronic activation of transgene expression by daily administration of zinc chloride delayed the time of first estrus (an index of peripubertal estrogen secretion), but shortened the interval between first estrus and the onset of estrous cyclicity (an index of reproductive competence). Accumulation of small antral follicles, accompanied by thecal hypertrophy and enhanced androgen production, preceded the acquisition of ovulatory capacity. These changes were accompanied by reduced serum LH levels, suggesting that the relative inability of small antral follicles to develop further in TGF alpha-overexpressing mice is at least in part due to inappropriate gonadotropin support. Serum LH levels in these animals may be reduced by an augmented androgen negative feedback signal. Nontransgenic mouse ovaries, placed under the control of a transgenic hypothalamus by heterologous grafting, rapidly ovulated and initiated estrous cyclicity. In contrast, acquisition of reproductive capacity was severely delayed in nontransgenic mice bearing transgenic ovarian grafts. The results indicate that TGF alpha regulates female reproductive development through two opposing mechanisms: within the brain, it facilitates the neuroendocrine activation of the process; at the ovarian level, modulates the stimulatory effect of gonadotropin hormones on follicular growth and steroidogenesis.
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