Luisa Doneda, Francesca-Gioia Klinger, Lidia Larizza and Massimo De Felici
Department of Biology and Genetics for the Medical Sciences, University of Milan, Italy.
The tyrosine kinase receptor, KIT, and its ligand, KL are important regulators of germ cell development. The aim of this study was to examine in detail the expression of the genes encoding these proteins (White and Steel, respectively) during the fetal period (14.5-18.5 days post coitum, dpc) and the two weeks after birth in mouse ovaries using the highly sensitive in situ reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (in situ RT-PCR). KL and KIT mRNAs were not detected in 14.5-15.5 dpc ovaries but, between 16.5 and 17.5 dpc, most of the oocytes in the outer regions of the ovaries positively stained for both mRNAs. The majority of the co-expressing oocytes were identified at the zygotene/pachytene stage of meiotic prophase I. At 18.5 dpc, positive staining for KL mRNA was present only in the somatic cells in the outer regions of the ovaries. At birth, faint KL mRNA-labelled somatic cells were mainly found in the central region of the ovaries and, by P7-14, a higher level of expression was detected in the follicle cells of one- and two-layered growing follicles. Between 17.5 dpc and birth, most of the oocytes expressed KIT mRNA and, from P7 onward, there was a considerable accumulation of transcripts in the growing oocytes. The results of in situ RT-PCR were confirmed by RT-PCR on purified populations of oocytes, and at protein level by means of immunohistochemistry. The co-expression of KL and KIT in a fraction of fetal oocytes suggests that the KL/KIT system, besides the well known paracrine functions on germ cells, may exert a novel autocrine role during the mid-stage of the oocyte meiotic prophase. The possibility that this autocrine loop plays a role in sustaining the survival of fetal oocytes in this stage is supported by the finding that the addition to the culture medium of anti-KL or anti-KIT antibodies led to a significant increase in oocyte apoptosis in the absence of exogenous KL.