Steroidogenesis and apoptosis in the mammalian ovary

Abraham Amsterdam*, Iris Keren-Tal, Dorit Aharoni, Ada Dantes, Abigail Land-Bracha, Eli Rimon, Ravid Sasson, Liron Hirsh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Ovarian cell death is an essential process for the homeostasis of ovarian function in human and other mammalian species. It ensures the selection of the dominant follicle and the demise of excess follicles. In turn, this process minimizes the possibility of multiple embryo development during pregnancy and assures the development of few, but healthy embryos. Degeneration of the old corpora lutea in each estrous/menstrual cycle by programmed cell death is essential to maintain the normal cyclicity of ovarian steroidogenesis. Although there are multiple pathways that can determine cell death or survival, crosstalk among endocrine, paracrine and autocrine factors, as well as among protooncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, survival genes and death genes, plays an important role in determining the fate of ovarian somatic and germ cells. The establishment of immortalized rat and human steroidogenic granulosa cell lines and the investigation of pure populations of primary granulosa cells allows systematic studies of the mechanisms that control steroidogenesis and apoptosis in granulosa cells. We have discovered that during initial stages of granulosa cell apoptosis progesterone production does not decrease. In contrast, we found that it is elevated up to 24h following the onset of the apoptotic stimuli exerted by starvation, cAMP, p53 or TNF-α stimulation, before total cell collapse. These observations raise the possibility for an alternative unique apoptotic pathway, one not involving mitochondrial Cyt C release associated with the destruction of mitochondrial structure and steroidogenic function. Using mRNA from apoptotic cells and affymetrix DNA microarray technology we discovered that granzyme B, a protease that normally resides in T cytotoxic lymphocytes and natural killer cells of the immune system is expressed and activated in granulosa cells. Thus, the apoptotic signals could bypass mitochondrial signals for apoptosis, which can preserve their steroidogenic activity until complete cell destruction. This unique apoptotic pathway assures cyclicity of estradiol and progesterone release in the estrous/menstruous cycle even during the initial stages of apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-867
Number of pages7
Issue number10-13
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
La Fondation Raphael et Regina Levy
Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot Israel
Yad Avraham Center for Cancer Research


    • Granulosa cells
    • Granztme B
    • Ovary


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