The calcium-dependent cell adhesion molecules, cadherins, regulate intercellular junction formation, cell sorting, and the establishment of cell polarity. Their important role in tissue remodeling suggests an involvement in ovarian cellular rearrangements throughout postnatal development. The ovary has a complex topology, and the ovarian follicle undergoes significant cellular rearrangements during its development. Cadherins have been detected previously in whole ovaries and in ovarian cells and cell lines with some immunolocalization in fetal and adult ovaries. This study examines the expression and localization of N- and E-cadherin throughout prepubertal ovarian and follicular development in the rat. We analyzed ovarian cadherin expression in rats from Day 19–20 of gestation to 25 days postpartum, during which follicle formation and folliculogenesis are the dominant ovarian events. Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction detected N- and E-cadherin mRNA expression in the ovaries at all the ages examined. Semiquantification of Western blots of whole ovary extracts confirmed the presence of ovarian N- and E-cadherin protein at all ages with both showing peak expression at 7 days of age. Immunostaining revealed N- and E-cadherin expression in follicular and extrafollicular cell types, but only E-cadherin showed follicle-stage-dependent expression. The changes in cadherin expression, concurrent with ovarian growth and folliculogenesis, suggest a function for cadherins in the morphological and functional development of the prepubertal rat ovary.
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