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Insulin and insulin-like growth factor signaling increases proliferation and hyperplasia of the ovarian surface epithelium and decreases follicular integrity through upregulation of the PI3-kinase pathway

Shelby M King, Dimple A Modi, Sharon L Eddie and Joanna E Burdette*

Author Affiliations

Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, University of Illinois, 900 S. Ashland Room 3202, Chicago, IL, 60607, USA

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Journal of Ovarian Research 2013, 6:12  doi:10.1186/1757-2215-6-12

Published: 7 February 2013



The ovarian surface epithelium responds to cytokines and hormonal cues to initiate proliferation and migration following ovulation. Although insulin and IGF are potent proliferative factors for the ovarian surface epithelium and IGF is required for follicle development, increased insulin and IGF activity are correlated with at least two gynecologic conditions: polycystic ovary syndrome and epithelial ovarian cancer. Although insulin and IGF are often components of in vitro culture media, little is known about the effects that these growth factors may have on the ovarian surface epithelium morphology or how signaling in the ovarian surface may affect follicular health and development.


Ovaries from CD1 mice were cultured in alginate hydrogels in the presence or absence of 5 μg/ml insulin or IGF-I, as well as small molecule inhibitors of IR/IGF1R, PI 3-kinase signaling, or MAPK signaling. Tissues were analyzed by immunohistochemistry for expression of cytokeratin 8 to mark the ovarian surface epithelium, Müllerian inhibiting substance to mark secondary follicles, and BrdU incorporation to assess proliferation. Changes in gene expression in the ovarian surface epithelium in response to insulin or IGF-I were analyzed by transcription array. Extracellular matrix organization was evaluated by expression and localization of collagen IV.


Culture of ovarian organoids with insulin or IGF-I resulted in formation of hyperplastic OSE approximately 4–6 cell layers thick with a high rate of proliferation, as well as decreased MIS expression in secondary follicles. Inhibition of the MAPK pathway restored MIS expression reduced by insulin but only partially restored normal OSE growth and morphology. Inhibition of the PI 3-kinase pathway restored MIS expression reduced by IGF-I and restored OSE growth to a single cell layer. Insulin and IGF-I altered organization of collagen IV, which was restored by inhibition of PI 3-kinase signaling.


While insulin and IGF are often required for propagation of primary cells, these cytokines may act as potent mitogens to disrupt cell growth, resulting in formation of hyperplastic OSE and decreased follicular integrity as measured by MIS expression and collagen deposition. This may be due partly to altered collagen IV deposition and organization in the ovary in response to insulin and IGF signaling mediated by PI 3-kinase.

Insulin; Insulin-like growth factor; Ovarian surface epithelium; Ovarian follicle