Local serotonergic signaling in mammalian follicles, oocytes and early embryos
The involvement of neurotransmitters in mammalian female reproductive tissues has been the object of several studies in past decades. This review focuses on new evidence that serotonin (or 5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) may be an important key player, acting locally in mammalian ovaries and female genital tracts where it may influence granulosa and cumulus cells as well as oocytes and early embryos. Pioneering studies reporting 5-HT in ovaries and other female reproductive tissues and cells are now complemented by the identification of specific 5-HT receptor subtypes (5-HT(1D), 5-HT(2A-B) and 5-HT(7)) in granulosa or cumulus cells, oocytes and early embryos. Additional serotonergic players, including the 5-HT transporter (SERT or Slc6A4) expressed in oocytes and embryos, and the 5-HT-producing enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase-1 (TPH1) expressed in cumulus cells, now make up a complete and autonomous local serotonergic network. Direct demonstrations of intracellular Ca(2+) and cAMP signaling by 5-HT in cumulus cells and its capacity to regulate progesterone secretion by granulosa cells further illustrate some of its potential functions in ovarian physiology. Recent evidence shows that mouse mothers with knocked-out TPH1 have embryos with impaired early development, establishing that maternal 5-HT is required for normal embryonic development. This local regulation of reproductive processes by 5-HT in mammals might have derived from better-known, and possibly ancestral, serotonergic networks similarly at play in several primitive animals, and potential implications for human reproduction may also be foreseen. Specific roles played by 5-HT in mammalian reproduction remain to be further investigated, and now span from steroidogenesis and oocyte maturation to early embryonic development.