Differential effects of estrogen and progesterone on development of primate secondary follicles in a steroid-depleted milieu in vitro

A. Y. Ting, J. Xu, R. L. Stouffer

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42 Scopus citations


STUDY QUESTION: What are the direct effects of progesterone (P4) and estradiol (E2) on the development and function of primate follicles in vitro from the pre-antral to early antral stage? SUMMARY ANSWER: In a steroid-depleted milieu, E2 improved follicle survival, growth, antrum formation and oocyte health, whereas P4 exerted minimal beneficial effects on follicle survival and reduced oocyte health. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Effects of P4 and E2 on follicle development have been studied primarily in large antral and pre-ovulatory follicles. Chronic P4 exposure suppresses antral follicle growth, but acute P4 exposure promotes oocyte maturation in pre-ovulatory follicles. Effects of E2 can be stimulatory or inhibitory depending upon species, dose and duration of exposure. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Non-human primate model, randomized, control versus treatment. Macaque (n = 6) secondary follicles (n = 24 per animal per treatment group) were cultured for 5 weeks. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Adult rhesus macaque secondary follicles were encapsulated in 0.25% alginate and cultured individually in media containing follicle stimulating hormone plus (i) vehicle, (ii) a steroid-synthesis inhibitor, trilostane (TRL, 250 ng/ml), (iii) TRL + low E2 (100 pg/ml) or progestin (P, 10 ng/ml R5020) and (iv) TRL + high E2 (1 ng/ml E2) or P (100 ng/ml R5020). Follicles reaching the antral stage (≥750 μm) were treated with human chorionic gonadotrophin for 34 h. End-points included follicle survival, antrum formation, growth pattern, plus oocyte health and maturation status, as well as media concentrations of P4, E2 and anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH). MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: In a steroid-depleted milieu, low dose, but not high dose, P improved (P < 0.05) follicle survival, but had no effect (P > 0.05) on antrum formation and AMH production. Low-dose P increased (P < 0.05) P4 production in fast-grow follicles, and both doses of P elevated (P < 0.05) E2 production in slow-grow follicles. Additionally, low-dose P increased (P < 0.05) the percentage of no-grow follicles, and high-dose P promoted oocyte degeneration. In contrast, E2, in a steroid-depleted milieu, improved (P < 0.05) follicle survival, growth, antrum formation and oocyte health. E2 had no effect on P4 or E2 production. Follicles exposed to E2 yielded mature oocytes capable of fertilization and early cleavage, at a rate similar to untreated control follicles. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: This study is limited to in vitro effects of P and E2 during the interval from the secondary to small antral stage of macaque follicles. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This study provides novel information on the direct actions of P4 and E2 on primate pre-antral follicle development. Combined with our previous report on the actions of androgens, our findings suggest that androgens appear to be a survival factor but hinder antral follicle differentiation, E2 appears to be a survival and growth factor at the pre-antral and early antral stage, whereas P4 may not be essential during early folliculogenesis in primates. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): NIH P50 HD071836 (NCTRI), NIH ORWH/NICHD 2K12HD043488 (BIRCWH), ONPRC 8P51OD011092. There are no conflicts of interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1907-1917
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number8
StatePublished - May 22 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • estrogen
  • follicle development
  • ovary
  • progesterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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