MRL/MpJ-Faslpr mice show abnormalities in ovarian function and morphology with the progression of autoimmune disease

The immune system is known to affect reproductive function, and maternal–fetal immune tolerance is essential for a successful pregnancy. To investigate the relationship between autoimmune disease and female reproductive function, we performed a comparative analysis of the ovarian phenotypes for C57BL/6 mice, autoimmune disease-prone MRL/MpJ (MRL/+) mice and congenic MRL/MpJ-Faslpr (MRL/lpr) mice harboring a mutation in the Fas gene that speeds disease onset. Both MRL-background strains showed earlier vaginal opening than C57BL/6 mice. The estrous cycle became irregular by 6 and 12 months of age in MRL/lpr mice and mice of the other two strains, respectively. Histological analysis at 3 months revealed that the number of primordial follicles was smaller in MRL-background mice than in C57BL/6 mice after 3 months. In addition, MRL/lpr and MRL/+ mice displayed lower numbers of ovarian follicles and corpora lutea at 3 and 6 months, and 6 and 12 months, respectively, than that in age-matched C57BL/6 mice. MRL/lpr and MRL/+ mice developed ovarian interstitial glands after 3 and 6 months, respectively. In particular, MRL/lpr mice showed numerous infiltrating lymphocytes within the ovarian interstitia, and partially stratified ovarian surface epithelia with more developed microvilli than that observed in C57BL/6 mice at 6 months. No significant differences in serum hormone levels were observed between the strains. In conclusion, MRL/lpr mice display altered ovarian development, morphology and function consistent with the progression of severe autoimmune disease, as these findings are less severe in MRL/+ counterparts.