The objective was to reveal whether a protein kinase C (PKC [all isozymes])-mediated self-sustaining MAPK3/1 (3/1 extracellular signal regulated kinase 2/1, also known as ERK2/1) activation loop was necessary for FSH- or epidermal growth factor (EGF)-induced DNA synthesis in the granulosa cells of intact preantral follicles. For this purpose, hamster preantral follicles were cultured with FSH or EGF in the presence of selective kinase inhibitors FSH or EGF phosphorylated RAF1, MAP2K1, and MAPK3/1. However, a relatively higher dose of EGF was necessary to sustain the MAPK3/1 activity, which was essential for cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (CDK4) activation and DNA synthesis. In intact preantral follicles, FSH or EGF stimulated DNA synthesis only in the granulosa cells. Sustained activation of MAPK3/1 beyond 3 h was independent of EGFR kinase activity but dependent on PKC activity, which appeared to form a self-sustaining MAPK3/1 activation loop by activating RAF1, MAP2K1, and PLA2G4 (phospholipase A2 [all cytosolic isozymes]). Inhibition of PKC activity as late as 4 h after the administration of FSH or EGF arrested DNA synthesis, which corresponded with attenuated phosphorylation of RAF1 and MAPK3/1, thus suggesting an essential role of PKC in MAPK3/1 activation. Collectively, these data present a novel self-sustaining mechanism comprised of MAPK3/1, PLA2G4, PKC, and RAF1 for CDK4 activation leading to DNA synthesis in granulosa cells. Either FSH or EGF can activate the loop to activate CDK4 and initiate DNA synthesis; however, consistent with our previous findings, FSH effect seems to be mediated by EGF, which initiates the event by stimulating EGFR kinase.
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