Developing a culture system for preantral follicles has important biotechnological implications due to the potential to produce large number of oocytes for embryo production and transfer. As an initial step toward accomplishing this long-term goal, a study was conducted to determine the effects of culture medium, serum type, and different concentrations of FSH on preantral follicular development in vitro. Specific endpoints included follicular growth rate, antrum formation, recovery rate of cumulus cell-oocyte complexes (COCs) from follicles, and oocyte meiotic competence. Compared with the North Carolina State University medium 23 (NCSU23), preantral follicles cultured in TCM199 medium for 4 days grew faster (P < 0.02). However, more follicles cultured in NCSU23 differentiated to form an antrum than in TCM199 (P < 0.01). For this reason, NCSU23 was chosen to investigate the role of FSH and serum type in regulating preantral follicular growth. Compared with the 0 mIU/ml FSH control, addition of 2 mIU/ml FSH to the medium stimulated follicular growth and antrum formation and suppressed apoptosis of granulosa cells (P < 0.05), supporting the essential role of FSH in preantral follicular growth and development. Another experiment compared fetal calf serum (FCS) with prepubertal gilt serum (PGS) and studied different concentrations of FSH in the culture medium (0.5, 1, and 2 mIU/ml). The best follicular growth rate was obtained with 2 mIU/ml compared with 0.5 or 1 mIU/ml FSH. Compared with PGS, FCS supplementation increased the cumulative percentage of antral follicles and COC recovery rate (P < 0.04). None of the oocytes recovered from any of these experiments reached metaphase II stage after maturation in vitro. In summary, culture medium, serum type, and FSH concentration in the medium interacted to affect follicular growth and antrum formation in vitro. These results suggest that a longer term culture of preantral follicles (>4 days) may be needed to produce oocytes capable of undergoing meiosis in vitro.
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