Molecular human reproduction

Follicle-stimulating hormone receptor (FSHR) alternative skipping of exon 2 or 3 affects ovarian response to FSH.

PMID 24670307


Genes critical for fertility are highly conserved in mammals. Interspecies DNA sequence variation, resulting in amino acid substitutions and post-transcriptional modifications, including alternative splicing, are a result of evolution and speciation. The mammalian follicle-stimulating hormone receptor (FSHR) gene encodes distinct species-specific forms by alternative splicing. Skipping of exon 2 of the human FSHR was reported in women of North American origin and correlated with low response to ovarian stimulation with exogenous follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). To determine whether this variant correlated with low response in women of different genetic backgrounds, we performed a blinded retrospective observational study in a Turkish cohort. Ovarian response was determined as low, intermediate or high according to retrieved oocyte numbers after classifying patients in four age groups (<35, 35-37, 38-40, >40). Cumulus cells collected from 96 women undergoing IVF/ICSI following controlled ovarian hyperstimulation revealed four alternatively spliced FSHR products in seven patients (8%): exon 2 deletion in four patients; exon 3 and exons 2 + 3 deletion in one patient each, and a retention of an intron 1 fragment in one patient. In all others (92%) splicing was intact. Alternative skipping of exons 2, 3 or 2 + 3 were exclusive to low responders and was independent of the use of agonist or antagonist. Interestingly, skipping of exon 3 occurs naturally in the ovaries of domestic cats--a good comparative model for human fertility. We tested the signaling potential of human and cat variants after transfection in HEK293 cells and FSH stimulation. None of the splicing variants initiated cAMP signaling despite high FSH doses, unlike full-length proteins. These data substantiate the occurrence of FSHR exon skipping in a subgroup of low responders and suggest that species-specific regulation of FSHR splicing plays diverse roles in mammalian ovarian function.