Gap junctions and ovarian folliculogenesis

Gerald M Kidder, Abdul Amir Mhawi
Reproduction 2002, 123 (5): 613-20
Gap junctions are collections of intercellular membrane channels that allow adjacent cells to share small molecules (< 1 kDa). Gap junction channels are composed of connexins, a homologous family of more than 20 proteins. In developing follicles, gap junctions couple the growing oocyte and its surrounding follicle cells into a functional syncytium. This review summarizes evidence on the expression of various connexins in developing follicles and the likely roles that some of the connexins play, on the basis of findings from gene targeting experiments in mice. Gap junctions between cumulus cells contain predominantly connexin43, and this connexin has also been detected using immunoelectron microscopy in a small minority of gap junctions at the oocyte surface. The importance of connexin43 for granulosa cell function is demonstrated by the fact that follicles lacking this connexin arrest in early preantral stages and produce incompetent oocytes. Connexin37 appears to be the only connexin contributed by oocytes to the gap junctions coupling them with granulosa cells, and loss of this connexin interferes with the development of antral follicles. The expression of multiple connexins in developing follicles is thus likely to reflect the multiple functions served by gap junctional communication in folliculogenesis.

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