Hormone Discovery Marks Breakthrough in Understanding Fertility

Source: University of Nottingham

Summary: Researchers for the first time have shown that a naturally occurring hormone plays a key role in regulating a woman’s fertility.

During the estrous cycle, the two major somatic cell types, theca interna cells (TC) and the granulosa cells (GC) of the ovarian antral follicle mutually interact leading to the ovulation of a mature and fertile oocyte. Part of this interaction involves the production of steroid hormones – estrogens, which play an important role in the reproductive process. Researchers from the University of Nottingham for the first time have shown that a naturally occurring hormone INSL3 (Insulin-like 3) plays a key role in regulating a woman’s fertility. Theca cell INSL3 is made in tiny amounts in the ovaries of reproductive-aged women that play a key role in the ability of the follicles containing the egg cells to make and regulate steroid hormones, specifically androgens. The study findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

Insulin-like 3 plays a key role in regulating a woman’s fertility

Credit: University of Nottingham

As the features are common to both bovine and human antral follicles, the bovine system is recommended as an excellent model to study the physiological events in human female reproductive systems. This new study suggests that INSL3 could be involved in the hormone imbalance associated with the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which affects a very large number of women of reproductive age. Having a more in-depth understanding of female fertility will pave the way for better diagnosis and treatment of infertility.

Professor Anand-Ivell added: “Infertility affects so many areas of society, in humans the cost is very much social and emotional, but in livestock species there is a very real economic cost to breeding problems. Studying INSL3 in such depth is getting us ever closer to understanding the root causes of infertility. So far, pharmacological approaches in fertility and contraception have been targeting the ancient hormone systems, such as the gonadotropins or steroid hormones. By targeting newer hormone systems like INSL3 we may be better and more specifically able to address the special mammalian aspects of reproductive physiology.”

More Information: Yanzhenzi Dai et al, “Theca Cell INSL3 and Steroids Together Orchestrate the Growing Bovine Antral Follicle”, Frontiers in Physiology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01033

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