LH activates a cascade of signaling events that are propagated throughout the ovarian preovulatory follicle to promote ovulation of a mature egg. Critical to LH-induced ovulation is the induction of epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like growth factors and transactivation of EGF receptor (EGFR) signaling. Because the timing of this transactivation has not been well characterized, we investigated the dynamics of LH regulation of the EGF network in cultured follicles. Preovulatory follicles were cultured with or without recombinant LH and/or specific inhibitors. EGFR and MAPK phosphorylation were examined by immunoprecipitation and Western blot analyses. By semiquantitative RT-PCR, increases in amphiregulin and epiregulin mRNAs were detected 30 min after recombinant LH stimulation of follicles and were maximal after 2 h. LH-induced EGFR phosphorylation also increased after 30 min and reached a maximum at 2 h. EGFR activation precedes oocyte maturation and is cAMP dependent, because forskolin similarly activated EGFR. LH-induced EGFR phosphorylation was sensitive to AG1478, an EGFR kinase inhibitor, and to inhibitors of matrix metalloproteases GM6001 and TNFalpha protease inhibitor-1 (TAPI-1), suggesting the involvement of EGF-like growth factor shedding. LH- but not amphiregulin-induced oocyte maturation and EGFR phosphorylation were sensitive to protein synthesis inhibition. When granulosa cells were cultured with a combination of neutralizing antibodies against amphiregulin, epiregulin, and betacellulin, EGFR phosphorylation and MAPK activation were inhibited. In cultured follicles, LH-induced MAPK activation was partially inhibited by AG1478 and GM6001, indicating that this pathway is regulated in part by the EGF network but also involves additional pathways. Thus, complex mechanisms are involved in the rapid amplification and propagation of the LH signal within preovulatory follicles and include the early activation of the EGF network.