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Oocytes regulate follicle growth by secreting paracrine growth factors that act on neighbouring granulosa cells (GCs). Those factors identified to date are mainly members of the transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) superfamily, but little is known about which specific receptor/ signalling system(s) they employ. This study was conducted to determine the requisite pathways utilised by oocytes to promote GC proliferation. We used an established oocyte-secreted mitogen bioassay, where denuded mouse oocytes are co-cultured with mural GCs. Oocytes, growth differentiation factor-9 (GDF9), TGFβ1 and activin-A all promoted GC DNA synthesis, but bone-morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6) did not. Subsequently, we tested the capacity of various TGFβ superfamily receptor ectodomains (ECD) to neutralise oocyte- or specific growth factor-stimulated GC proliferation. The BMP type-II receptor (BMPR-II) ECD antagonised oocyte and GDF9 bioactivity dose-dependently, but had no or minimal effect on TGFβ1 and activin-A bioactivity, demonstrating its specificity. The TGFβR-II, activinR-IIA and activinR-IIB ECDs all failed to neutralise oocyte- or GDF9-stimulated GC DNA synthesis, whereas they did antagonise the activity of their respective native ligands. An activin receptor-like kinase (ALK) 4/5/7 inhibitor, SB431542, also antagonised both oocyte and GDF9 bioactivity in a dose-dependent manner. Consistent with these findings, oocytes, GDF9 and TGFβ1 all activated SMAD2/3 reporter constructs in transfected GC, and led to phosphorylation of SMAD2 proteins in treated cells. Surprisingly, oocytes did not activate the SMAD1/5/8 pathway in transfected GCs although exogenous BMP6 did. This study indicates that oocyte paracrine factors primarily utilise a similar signalling pathway first identified for GDF9 that employs an unusual combination of TGFβ superfamily receptors, the BMPR-II and a SMAD2/3 stimulatory ALK (4,5 or 7), for transmitting their mitogenic actions in GC. This cell-signalling pathway may also have relevance in the hypothalamic-pituitary axis and in germ-somatic cell interactions in the testis.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Cell Science

Publication Date





3811 - 3821