Mechanisms regulating follicle selection in ruminants: lessons learned from multiple ovulation models
Selection of a single dominant follicle from a cohort of growing follicles is a unique biological process, a key step in female reproductive function in monovular species, and lies at the core of reproductive technologies in cattle. Follicle growth and the number of follicles that ovulate are regulated by precise endocrine, paracrine, and autocrine mechanisms. Most of our current understanding about follicle selection focuses on the role of FSH, LH, and the IGF family in follicle growth and selection of the dominant follicle. However, more recently the role of members of the TGF-ß family has been highlighted, particularly in high fecundity genotypes in sheep. Intercellular signaling between the oocyte and granulosa cells (GC) regulates proliferation and differentiation due to actions of bone morphogenetic protein 15 (BMP15) and growth and differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) within the follicle. Mutations that either knockout or reduce the activity of BMP15 or GDF9 have been found to increase ovulation rate in heterozygotes and generally cause severe follicle abnormalities in homozygotes. A mutation in the intracellular kinase domain of the BMPR1B receptor (Booroola fecundity gene) increases ovulation rate in heterozygotes with further increases in ovulation in homozygotes. The physiological mechanisms linking these mutations to increased ovulation rates are still not well defined. A recently identified high fecundity bovine genotype, Trio, causes increased expression of SMAD6, an intracellular inhibitor of the BMP15/GDF9 signalling pathways. This bovine model has provided insights into the mechanisms associated with selection of multiple dominant follicles and multiple ovulations in carriers of fecundity alleles. The present review focuses on the mechanisms involved in follicle selection in ruminants with a special emphasis on the contribution made by multiple ovulation models in both cattle and sheep. The evaluation of multiple ovulation models in ruminants has allowed us to construct a new physiological model that relates changes in the BMP15/GDF9 signalling pathways to the physiological changes that result in selection of multiple dominant follicles. This model is characterized by acquisition of dominance at a smaller follicle size but at a similar time in the follicular wave with multiple follicles acquiring dominance in a hierarchal sequence, delaying FSH suppression and, thus allowing additional follicles to continue to grow and acquire dominance.
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