Ovulation is preceded by intraovarian inflammatory reactions that occur in response to the preovulatory gonadotropin surge. As a main inflammatory event, leukocytes infiltrate the ovary and release proteolytic enzymes that degrade the extracellular matrix weakening the follicular wall, a required step for follicle rupture. This study aimed to quantitatively measure the infiltrating leukocytes, determine their cell types, and localize infiltration sites in the periovulatory rat ovary. Cycling adult and gonadotropin-stimulated immature rats were used as animal models. Ovaries were collected at five different stages of estrous cycle in the adult rats (diestrus, 1700 h; proestrus, 1500 h; proestrus, 2400 h; estrus, 0600 h; and metestrus, 1700 h) and at five different time points after superovulation induction in the immature rats (pregnant mare's serum gonadotrophin, 0 h; pregnant mare's serum gonadotrophin, 48h; human chorionic gonadotropin, 6h; human chorionic gonadotropin, 12h; and human chorionic gonadotropin, 24h). The ovaries were either dissociated into a single cell suspension for flow cytometric analysis or fixed for immunohistochemical localization of the leukocytes. Similar numbers of leukocytes were seen throughout the estrous cycle (∼500,000/ovary), except proestrus 2400 when 2-fold higher numbers of leukocytes were found (∼1.1 million/ovary). A similar trend of periovulatory rise of leukocyte numbers was seen in the superovulation-induced immature rat model, recapitulating a dramatic increase in leukocyte numbers upon gonadotropin stimulation. Both macrophage/granulocytes and lymphocytes were among the infiltrating leukocytes and were localized in the theca and interstitial tissues, where platelet-endothelial cell adhesion molecule-1 and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 may play roles in the transmigration of leukocytes, because their expressions correlates spatiotemporally with the infiltrating leukocytes. In addition, a strong inverse relationship between leukocyte numbers in the ovary and spleen, as well as significant reduction of leukocyte infiltration in the splenectomized rats, were seen, indicating that the spleen may serve as an immediate supplier of leukocytes to the periovulatory ovary.
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