Paracrine factors have significant effects during folliculogenesis. Because of various morphological features, the mare is a convenient model to study in vivo the effects of factors involved in periovulatory events. In the present work, epidermal growth factor (EGF; experiment 1, n = 49 mares) and interleukin-1β and interleukin-1RA (IL-1β and IL-1RA, respectively; experiment 2, n = 80 mares) were injected intrafollicularly to evaluate the influence of these factors on in vivo maturation of equine preovulatory follicles. A transvaginal ultrasound-guided injection was performed when the diameter of the dominant follicle reached 30–34 mm. In experiment 1, the four experimental groups were 1) EGF group, intrafollicular (i.f.) injection of EGF (2 ml; 0.5 μg/ml) plus i.v. injection of physiological serum; 2) control group, no injection; 3) PBS group, i.f. injection of 2 ml of PBS plus i.v. injection of physiological serum; 4) crude equine gonadotropins (CEG) group, i.f. injection of PBS plus i.v. injection of CEG (20 mg). In experiment 2, groups 3 and 4 were the same as in experiment 1, but groups 1 and 2 were changed as follows: 1) IL-1β group, i.f. injection of IL-1β (2 ml; 0.5 μg/ml) plus i.v. injection of physiological serum; 2) IL-1RA group, i.f. injection of IL-1RA (2 ml; 0.5 μg/ml) plus i.v. injection of physiological serum. In each experiment, cumulus-oocyte complexes from dominant/injected follicles were collected by transvaginal ultrasound-guided aspiration 38 h after intrafollicular injection. Cumulus morphology and oocyte nuclear stage were assessed. Additionally, in experiment 2, 40 mares were used to determine the time of ovulation after treatments. Our results indicate that intrafollicular injection of EGF or PBS induced lower cumulus expansion and oocyte maturation rates compared with the CEG group (P < 0.05). In experiment 2, the IL-1β and CEG groups showed the same expansion rate, the same oocyte maturation rate, and the same ovulation distribution. On the other hand, the intrafollicular injection of IL-1RA, as PBS, did not induce follicle and cumulus-oocyte complex (COC) maturation. In conclusion, we confirmed that the technique of intrafollicular injection can be used in the mare to study the role of specific molecules. We demonstrated for the first time in mares that the injection of EGF did not influence in vivo COC maturation. In contrast, IL-1β injection into the dominant follicle induced in vivo oocyte maturation and the ovulation process whereas IL-1RA seemed to block these mechanisms.
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