Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor and Its Receptor, Flk-1/KDR, Are Cytoprotective in the Extravascular Compartment of the Ovarian Follicle
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Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent mitogen and cytoprotective factor for vascular endothelial cells. Although VEGF is ubiquitously expressed, its role in nonvascular tissues is poorly understood. VEGF interacts with various cell surface receptors to mediate its cellular effects. It previously has been thought that the VEGF receptor Flk-1/KDR, its main signaling receptor, was expressed exclusively by endothelial cells. However, in the present study using bovine and rodent models, we demonstrate that VEGF and Flk-1/KDR are coexpressed in ovarian granulosa cells. VEGF and Flk-1/KDR mRNA and protein were both detectable in follicle tissue sections and in vitro cultured granulosa cells. Expression of both ligand and receptor increased in healthy follicles throughout follicular development. VEGF treatment of serum-starved and cytokine-exposed granulosa cells resulted in enhanced survival, and this cytoprotection was ameliorated when Flk-1/KDR signaling was inhibited. Reduced expression of Flk-1/KDR was also associated with the onset and progression of follicle atresia, suggesting involvement in follicular health in vivo. The results of this study demonstrate for the first time expression of Flk-1/KDR in ovarian granulosa cells and identify a novel extravascular role for VEGF and its receptor in ovarian function.
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