Ovarian folliculogenesis is driven by the combined action of endocrine cues and paracrine factors. The oocyte secretes powerful mitogens, such as growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9), that regulate granulosa cell proliferation, metabolism, steroidogenesis and differentiation. This study investigated the role of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)−extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 and 2 (ERK1/2; also known as MAPK3/1) signaling pathway on GDF9 action on granulosa cells. Results show that mitogenic action of the oocyte is prevented by pharmacological inhibition of the EGFR−ERK1/2 pathway. Importantly, EGFR−ERK1/2 activity as well as rous sarcoma oncogene family kinases (SFK) are required for signaling through SMADs, mediating GDF9, activin A and TGFβ1 mitogenic action in granulosa cells. GDF9 could not activate ERK1/2 or affect EGF-stimulated ERK1/2 in granulosa cells. However, induction of the SMAD3-specific CAGA reporter by GDF9 in granulosa cells required active EGFR, SFKs and ERK1/2 as did GDF9-responsive gene expression. Finally, the EGFR−SFKs−ERK1/2 pathway was shown to be required for the maintenance of phosphorylation of the SMAD3 linker region. Together our results suggest that receptivity of granulosa cells to oocyte-secreted factors, including GDF9, is regulated by the level of activation of the EGFR and resulting ERK1/2 activity, through the requisite permissive phosphorylation of SMAD3 in the linker region. Our results indicate that oocyte-secreted TGFβ-like ligands and EGFR−ERK1/2 signaling are cooperatively required for the unique granulosa cell response to the signal from oocytes mediating granulosa cell survival and proliferation and hence the promotion of follicle growth and ovulation.
- Accepted May 25, 2010.