Luteinizing hormone (LH) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) are glycoprotein hormones used for assisted reproduction acting on the same receptor (LHCGR) and mediating different intracellular signaling. We evaluated the pro- and anti-apoptotic effect of 100 pM LH or hCG, in the presence or in the absence of 200 pg/mL 17β-estradiol, in long-term, serum-starved human primary granulosa cells (hGLC) and a transfected granulosa cell line overexpressing LHCGR (hGL5/LHCGR). To this purpose, phospho-extracellular-regulated kinase 1/2 (pERK1/2), protein kinase B (pAKT), cAMP-responsive element binding protein (pCREB) activation and procaspase 3 cleavage were evaluated over three days by Western blotting, along with the expression of target genes by real-time PCR and cell viability by colorimetric assay. We found that LH induced predominant pERK1/2 and pAKT activation STARD1, CCND2 and anti-apoptotic XIAP gene expression, while hCG mediated more potent CREB phosphorylation, expression of CYP19A1 and procaspase 3 cleavage than LH. Cell treatment by LH is accompanied by increased (serum-starved) cell viability, while hCG decreased the number of viable cells. The hCG-specific, pro-apoptotic effect was blocked by a physiological dose of 17β-estradiol, resulting in pAKT activation, lack of procaspase 3 cleavage and increased cell viability. These results confirm that relatively high levels of steroidogenic pathway activation are linked to pro-apoptotic signals in vitro, which may be counteracted by other factors, i.e., estrogens.
Keywords: LH; apoptosis; gonadotropins; granulosa; hCG.