Fetal ovarian development and primordial follicle formation underpin future female fertility. Prokineticin (PROK) ligands regulate cell survival, proliferation, and angiogenesis in adult reproductive tissues including the ovary. However, their expression and function during fetal ovarian development remains unclear. This study aimed to investigate expression and localization of the PROK ligands, receptors, and their downstream transcriptional targets in the human fetal ovary. This study was conducted at the University of Edinburgh. Ovaries were collected from 37 morphologically normal human fetuses. mRNA and protein expression of PROK ligands and receptors was determined in human fetal ovaries using qRT-PCR, immunoblotting, and immunohistochemistry. Functional studies were performed using a human germ cell tumor line (TCam-2) stably transfected with Prokineticin receptor 1 (PROKR1). Expression of PROK1 and PROKR1 was significantly higher in mid-gestation ovaries (17-20 wk) than at earlier gestations (8-11 and 14-16 wk). PROK2 significantly increased across the gestations examined. PROKR2 expression remained unchanged. PROK ligand and receptor proteins were predominantly localized to germ cells (including oocytes within primordial follicles) and endothelial cells, indicating these cell types to be the targets of PROK signaling in the human fetal ovary. PROK1 treatment of a germ cell line stably expressing PROKR1 resulted in ERK phosphorylation and elevated COX2 expression. Developmental changes in expression and regulation of COX2 and phosphorylated ERK (pERK) by PROK1 suggest that PROK ligands may be novel regulators of germ cell development in the human fetal ovary, interacting within a network of growth and survival factors prior to primordial follicle formation.
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