Expansion of the mouse cumulus-oocyte complex (COC) is dependent on oocyte-secreted paracrine factors. Transforming growth factor beta (TGFB) superfamily molecules are prime candidates for the cumulus expansion-enabling factors (CEEFs), and we have recently determined that growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) alone is not the CEEF. The aim of this study was to examine oocyte paracrine factors and their signaling pathways that regulate mouse cumulus expansion. Using RT-PCR, oocytes were found to express the two activin subunits, Inhba and Inhbb, and activin A and activin B both enabled FSH-induced cumulus expansion of oocytectomized (OOX) complexes. Follistatin, an activin-binding protein, neutralized activin-induced expansion but had no effect on oocyte-induced expansion. The type I receptors for GDF9 and activin are activin receptor-like kinase 5 (ALK5) and ALK4, respectively, both of which activate the same SMAD 2/3 signaling pathway. We examined the requirement for this signaling system using an ALK 4/5/7 inhibitor, SB-431542. SB-431542 completely ablated FSH-stimulated GDF9-, activin A-, activin B-, and oocyte-induced cumulus expansion. Moreover, SB-431542 also antagonized epidermal growth factor-stimulated, oocyte-induced cumulus expansion. Using real-time RT-PCR, SB-431542 also attenuated GDF9-, activin A-, and oocyte-induced OOX expression of hyaluronan synthase 2, tumor necrosis factor alpha-induced protein 6, prostaglandin synthase 2, and pentraxin 3. This study provides evidence that the CEEF is composed of TGFB superfamily molecules that signal through SMAD 2/3 to enable the initiation of mouse cumulus expansion.
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Vol. 76 • No. 5