Androgens have an important role in ovarian follicular growth and function, but circulating androgen concentrations are also associated with ovarian dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders in women. The extent and causes of the variation in androgen production in individuals, however, are unknown. Because thecal cells of follicles synthesize androstenedione and testosterone, variation in production of these androgens is hypothesized to be directly related to the inherently high variation in number of healthy growing follicles in ovaries of individuals. To test this hypothesis, we determined whether thecal CYP17A1 mRNA (codes for a cytochrome P450 enzyme involved in androgen synthesis), LH-induced thecal androstenedione production, androstenedione concentrations in follicular fluid, and circulating testosterone concentrations were lower in cattle with relatively low versus high number of follicles growing during follicular waves and whether ovariectomy reduced serum testosterone concentrations. Results demonstrated that cattle with a low follicle number had lower (P<0.05) abundance of CYP17A1 mRNA in thecal cells, reduced (P<0.01) capacity of thecal cells to produce androstenedione in response to LH, lower (P<0.01) androstenedione concentrations in ovulatory follicles, and lower (P<0.02) circulating testosterone concentrations during estrous cycles compared with animals with high follicle number. Also, serum testosterone in cattle with low or high follicle number was reduced by 63 and 70%, respectively, following ovariectomy. In conclusion, circulating androgen concentrations are lower in cattle with low versus high number of follicles growing during follicular waves, possibly because of a reduced responsiveness of thecal cells to LH.
University College Dublin ->