Female fertility potential depends on the number of mature follicles; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Based on previously generated miRNA and mRNA sequencing data of healthy ovarian follicles (>5 mm in diameter) isolated from Hu sheep with different prolificacy, we investigated the roles of a novel miRNA (unconservative_15_2570409) and the progesterone receptor (PGR) gene in follicular development. During the periovulatory phase, the expression of unconservative_15_2570409 and PGR was lower and higher, respectively, in the >5 mm follicles of high prolificacy (HP) ewes than in those of low prolificacy (LP) ewes and in the >3 mm follicles than in the smaller follicles of the HP ewes. Subsequently, the granulosa cells (GCs) of Hu sheep were used as an in vitro model. PGR overexpression significantly increased the mRNA expression of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), 3-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase/isomerase (3β-HSD), and cytochrome P450 family 19 subfamily A member 1 (CYP19A1), which promoted the secretion of progesterone (P) and estradiol (E). PGR knockdown significantly downregulated the levels of StAR and 3β-HSD mRNA and decreased the production of P, whereas no effects on CYP19A1 mRNA expression and E levels were observed. We also found the negative regulatory effect of unconservative_15_2570409 on the mRNA and protein expression of PGR by targeting the 3′-untranslated region. The regulation of PGR levels resulted in a corresponding change in the ADAMTS1, PPAR-γ, and CTSL gene transcripts, which are important for follicular maturation and ovulation. Additionally, PGR, ADAMTS1, and PPAR-γ were predominantly localized in the GCs. Collectively, our results suggest that by regulating PGR expression and consequently affecting the expression of target genes and steroidogenesis, unconservative_15_2570409 plays a role in follicular development during the periovulatory stage, which provides novel insights into the molecular mechanisms affecting Hu sheep prolificacy.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.