Dominant follicles are those that continue to develop and have the potential to ovulate while subordinate follicles regress. Characteristics of dominant follicles include a larger diameter, higher intrafollicular estradiol, and lower IGF-binding protein (IGFBP)-4 concentrations compared with other cohort follicles. Follicle development is regulated by endocrine hormones that act via intracellular signaling pathways. Here, we show the differences in Akt, Erk, c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase, and p-38 signaling pathways between dominant and subordinate follicles at the dominance stage of the follicle wave. However, earlier in the follicle wave (dominant follicle selection), there were only differences in the levels of Akt and Erk signal transduction proteins among dominant and subordinate follicles. Using this profile of Akt and Erk protein expression in granulosa and theca cells of selected dominant follicles compared with subordinate follicles, we suggest a predictive model to identify future dominant and subordinate follicles from the pool of otherwise similar cohort follicles at the time of follicle wave emergence. We conclude that the Erk and Akt signal transduction pathways are important for dominant follicle selection and development and, furthermore, that the observed differences in these pathways mark the future dominant follicle from subordinate follicles before differences in follicular diameter, follicular fluid estradiol, and IGFBP-4 concentrations are apparent.
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