In rodent ovaries Kit ligand (KITL) and its receptor KIT have diverse roles, including the promotion of primordial follicle activation, oocyte growth, and follicle survival. Studies were undertaken to determine whether KITL and KIT carry out similar activities in rabbits. Kitl and Kit mRNA and protein were localized to oocytes and granulosa cells, respectively, in the rabbit ovary. Ovarian cortical explants from juvenile rabbits and neonatal mouse ovaries were subsequently cultured with recombinant mouse KITL and/or KITL neutralizing antibody. Indices of follicle growth initiation were compared with controls and between treatment groups for each species. Recombinant mouse KITL had no stimulatory effect on primordial follicle recruitment in cultured rabbit ovarian explants. However, the mean diameter of oocytes from primordial, early primary, primary, and growing primary follicles increased significantly in recombinant mouse KITL-treated explants compared with untreated tissues. In contrast, recombinant mouse KITL promoted both primordial follicle activation and an increase in the diameter of oocytes from primordial and early primary follicles in the mouse, and these effects were inhibited by coculture with KITL-neutralizing antibody. Recombinant mouse KITL had no effect on follicle survival for either species. These data demonstrate that KITL promotes the growth of rabbit and mouse oocytes and stimulates primordial follicle activation in the mouse but not in the rabbit. We propose that the physiologic roles of KITL and KIT may differ between species, and this has important implications for the design of in vitro culture systems for folliculogenesis in mammals, including the human.
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