Acute withdrawal of estrogen from chicks leads to a precipitous decline in egg white protein synthesis and egg white mRNAs in the oviduct. In this paper we explore the biochemical basis of this phenomenon as well as the capacity of the "withdrawn" tubular gland cells to be restimulated with steroid hormones. During withdrawal, the decline in ovalbumin mRNA was closely correlated with the decline in nuclear estrogen receptors. Within 2-3 d of estrogen removal a withdrawn state was established and then maintained, as defined by a 1,000-fold-lower level of ovalbumin mRNA and a 20-fold-lower level of nuclear estrogen receptors, relative to the estrogen-stimulated state. The number of active forms I and II RNA polymerases declined by 50% during this time. Histological examination of oviduct sections and cell suspensions, combined with measurements of DNA content, revealed that tubular gland cells persisted as a constant proportion of the cell population for 3 d after estrogen removal. Despite a 1,000-fold decrease in the content of ovalbumin mRNA, the ovalbumin gene remained preferentially sensitive to digestion by DNase I. When 3-d-withdrawn oviducts were restimulated with either estrogen or progesterone, in situ hybridization revealed that greater than or equal to 98% of the tubular gland cells contained ovalbumin mRNA. Induction by a suboptimal concentration of estrogen was correlated with a lower concentration of ovalbumin mRNA in all cells rather than fewer responsive cells.

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