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Effects of follicular aging and duration of superstimulation on oocyte competence and granulosa cell gene expression in cattle



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A prolonged growth phase of the ovulatory follicle results in follicular aging. Whether follicular aging is detrimental or beneficial to oocyte competence is not fully known. The objective of this thesis is to investigate the effects of follicular aging on oocyte competence and granulosa cell gene expression in cattle. Four sets of experiments were designed to address the objective. The following hypotheses were tested during the course of these studies: 1) oocyte competence will improve by the longer growing phase but will be adversely affected by FSH starvation, 2) follicles that undergo superstimulation will have different gene expression than dominant follicles from a natural cycle, 3) extending the superstimulation protocol by 3 days will allow follicles to mature better and 4) markers of maturity, cellular health and survival will be turned off by FSH starvation. The objective of the first study (Chapter 3) was to determine the effects of extending the length of superstimulation and follicular aging on oocyte competence by in vitro embryo production. Multiple follicles were allowed to grow for 4 (Short FSH) or 7 days (Long FSH) under the treatment of 8 or 14 injections of FSH (at 12-hour intervals), respectively. Multiple follicles in the FSH starvation group were allowed to grow for 7 days but FSH was provided for only the first 4 days of superstimulation. Extending the duration of follicular growth by superstimulation resulted in a greater number of ≥9 mm follicles and in 2.5 more transferable embryos per animal (morulae+blastocysts) at Day 9 of in vitro embryo culture. The FSH starvation resulted in a greater proportion of poor quality oocytes lower cleavage rate and lower embryonic development. Microarray analysis was used to assess the effect of superstimulation (Chapter 4), follicular aging (Chapter 5) and FSH starvation (Chapter 6) on the gene expression profile of superstimulated granulosa cells. Gene expression of granulosa cells from the post-LH preovulatory dominant follicle was compared (Chapter 4) with those from follicles of the same status after a standard 4-day superstimulation (same protocol as Short FSH group from Chapter 3). A total of 190 genes were down-regulated and 280 genes were upregulated in the superstimulated group when compared with the reference (non-superstimulated control). Data analysis showed that superstimulated follicles are still in a growing phase compared to untreated dominant follicles (most of the upregulated genes are related to matrix remodeling due to tissue proliferation) and did not respond to LH properly (down regulation of LH gene markers). Four-day superstimulation also disturbed genes related to angiogenesis and activated oxidative stress response genes. Extending the superstimulation protocol (7 days; same protocol as Long FSH from Chapter 3) allowed more time for follicles to leave the growing stage and properly respond to LH surge (most of the upregulated genes in the Long FSH group are markers of post LH surge) when compared to the standard 4 day superstimulation protocol (Short FSH; reference group) (Chapter 5). Moreover, the follicles from Long FSH show proximity to ovulation. The continuous FSH support during the extended superstimulation protocol is crucial for follicular health since FSH starvation disturbed genes markers of oocyte quality and embryo development (Chapter 6). Granulosa cells that underwent FSH starvation do not respond to LH surge, which could be detrimental to ovulation (Chapter 6). Therefore, follicles from Short FSH are delayed in maturation and differentiation but the oocyte competence is not compromised. Extending superstimulation protocol by 3 d enhanced the ovarian response to FSH treatment and allowed more time for follicles to mature and properly respond to the LH stimulus. A period of FSH starvation after superstimulatory treatment compromised follicular health, ability to respond to LH and ovulate, oocyte quality and the fertilization process.



cattle, FSH, follicle dynamics, follicular aging, gene expression, granulosa cells, oocyte competence, superstimulation



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Veterinary Biomedical Sciences


Veterinary Biomedical Sciences


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