Prenatal programming by testosterone of follicular theca cell functions in ovary

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2020 Mar;77(6):1177-1196. doi: 10.1007/s00018-019-03230-1. Epub 2019 Jul 20.


In mammalian ovaries, the theca layers of growing follicles are critical for maintaining their structural integrity and supporting androgen synthesis. Through combining the postnatal monitoring of ovaries by abdominal magnetic resonance imaging, endocrine profiling, hormonal analysis of the follicular fluid of growing follicles, and transcriptomic analysis of follicular theca cells, we provide evidence that the exposure of ovine fetuses to testosterone excess activates postnatal follicular growth and strongly affects the functions of follicular theca in adulthood. Prenatal exposure to testosterone impaired androgen synthesis in the small antral follicles of adults and affected the expression in their theca cells of a wide array of genes encoding extracellular matrix components, their membrane receptors, and signaling pathways. Most expression changes were uncorrelated with the concentrations of gonadotropins, steroids, and anti-Müllerian hormone in the recent hormonal environment of theca cells, suggesting that these changes rather result from the long-term developmental effects of testosterone on theca cell precursors in fetal ovaries. Disruptions of the extracellular matrix structure and signaling in the follicular theca and ovarian cortex can explain the acceleration of follicle growth through altering the stiffness of ovarian tissue. We propose that these mechanisms participate in the etiology of the polycystic ovarian syndrome, a major reproductive pathology in woman.

Keywords: AMH; Collagen; Fibrillin; MRI; PCOS; RNA sequencing; SMOC; Sheep.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Follicle / cytology
  • Ovarian Follicle / growth & development
  • Ovarian Follicle / metabolism
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / genetics
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*
  • Sheep
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Theca Cells / cytology
  • Theca Cells / metabolism*
  • Theca Cells / ultrastructure


  • Testosterone