Follicle isolation methods reveal plasticity of granulosa cell steroidogenic capacity during mouse in vitro follicle growth

Elnur Babayev, Min Xu, Lonnie D. Shea, Teresa K Woodruff, Francesca E. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Follicles are the functional unit of the ovary and several methods have been developed to grow follicles ex vivo, which recapitulate key events of oogenesis and folliculogenesis. Enzymatic digestion protocols are often used to increase the yield of follicles from the ovary. However, the impact of these protocols on the outermost theca and granulosa cells, and thereby follicle function, is not well defined. To investigate the impact of enzymatic digestion on follicle function, we collected preantral follicles from CD1 mice either by enzymatic digestion (Enzy-FL) or mechanical isolation (Mech-FL) and compared follicle growth, steroidogenesis and cell differentiation within an encapsulated in vitro follicle growth system which maintains the 3D architecture of the oocyte and its surrounding somatic cells. Follicles were encapsulated in 0.5% alginate and cultured for 8 days. Compared with Enzy-FL, Mech-FL grew more rapidly and produced significantly higher levels of androstenedione, estradiol and progesterone. The expression of theca-interstitial cell marker genes, Cyp17a1, which encodes 17-hydroxylase/17, 20-lyase and catalyzes the hydroxylation of pregnenolone and progesterone to 17-hydroxypregnenolone and 17-hydroxyprogesterone, and the conversion of these products into dehydroepiandrosterone and androstenedione, and Star, which encodes a transport protein essential for cholesterol entry into mitochondria, were also higher in Mech-FL than in Enzy-FL. Mech-FL maintained an intact theca-interstitial layer on the outer edge of the follicle that phenocopied in vivo patterns as confirmed by alkaline phosphatase staining, whereas theca-interstitial cells were absent from Enzy-FL from the onset of culture. Therefore, preservation of the theca cell layer at the onset of culture better supports follicle growth and function. Interestingly, granulosa cells in the outermost layers of Enzy-FL expressed CYP17A1 by Day 4 of culture while maintaining inhibin α-subunit expression and a cuboidal nucleus. Thus, in the absence of theca-interstitial cells, granulosa cells have the potential to differentiate into androgen-producing cells. This work may have implications for human follicle culture, where enzymatic isolation is required owing to the density of the ovarian cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbergaac033
JournalMolecular human reproduction
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • androgen
  • culture
  • enzymatic digestion
  • estrogen
  • follicle
  • granulosa cells
  • mechanical isolation
  • ovary
  • theca cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Follicle isolation methods reveal plasticity of granulosa cell steroidogenic capacity during mouse in vitro follicle growth'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this