Differentiation of dominant versus subordinate follicles in cattle.
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Selection of a dominant follicle, capable of ovulating, from among a cohort of similarly sized follicles is a critical transition in follicular development. The mechanisms that regulate the selection of a species-specific number of dominant follicles for ovulation are not well understood. Cattle provide a very useful animal model for studies on follicular selection and dominance. During the bovine estrous cycle, two or three sequential waves of follicular development occur, each producing a dominant follicle capable of ovulating if luteal regression occurs. Follicles are large enough to allow analysis of multiple endpoints within a single follicle, and follicular development and regression can be followed via ultrasonographic imaging. Characteristics of recruited and selected follicles, obtained at various times during the first follicular wave, have been determined in some studies, whereas dominant and subordinate follicles have been compared around the time of selection in others. As follicular recruitment proceeds, mRNA for P450 aromatase increases. By the time of morphological selection, the dominant follicle has much higher concentrations of estradiol in follicular fluid, and its granulosa cells produce more estradiol in vitro than cells from subordinate follicles. Shortly after selection, dominant follicles have higher levels of mRNAs for gonadotropin receptors and steroidogenic enzymes. It has been hypothesized that granulosa cells of the selected follicle acquire LH receptors (LHr) to allow them to increase aromatization in response to LH, as well as FSH. However, LH does not appear to stimulate estradiol production by bovine granulosa cells, and the role of LHr acquisition remains to be determined. Recent evidence suggests a key role for changes in the intrafollicular insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system in selection of the dominant follicle. When follicular fluid was sampled in vivo before morphological selection, the lowest concentration of IGF binding protein-4 (IGFBP-4) was more predictive of future dominance than size or estradiol concentration. Consistent with this finding, dominant follicles acquire an FSH-induced IGFBP-4 protease activity. Thus, a decrease in IGFBP-4, which would make more IGF available to interact with its receptors and synergize with FSH to promote follicular growth and aromatization, appears to be a critical determinant of follicular selection for dominance.