Oocyte developmental competence is acquired throughout folliculogenesis and is associated with appropriate differentiation and responsiveness to the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. The recent development of a novel system for culturing ovarian follicles in a three-dimensional alginate matrix shows promise in phenocopying in vivo folliculogenesis. However, oocytes from follicles grown in vitro have a reduced capacity to complete nuclear maturation and be fertilized compared to oocytes matured in vivo. Oocyte metabolism is closely linked with oocyte quality, and we have recently shown that beta-oxidation of lipids is essential for oocyte developmental competence. Thus we investigated whether upregulation of beta-oxidation by treatment with the fatty acid transport cofactor l-carnitine could improve folliculogenesis and developmental competence of mouse follicles following three-dimensional culture. Ovarian hormones (androstenedione, estradiol, and progesterone) and the induction of cumulus matrix proteins (hyaluronan and ADAMTS1) were similar to in vivo follicles, indicating that appropriate differentiation of follicular cells occurs in cultured follicles after an LH/human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) stimulus. l-carnitine did not alter survival, growth, or differentiation of follicles. However, l-carnitine supplementation significantly increased beta-oxidation, and markedly improved both fertilization rate and blastocyst development. Together, these results show that appropriate responsiveness of the follicle to the LH/hCG surge occurs following three-dimensional follicle culture but limitations on key metabolic requirements remain. l-carnitine supplementation during in vitro follicle culture increased lipid metabolism and improved oocyte developmental competence.
Ovarian follicles cultured in vitro express luteinizing hormone (LH)-induced factors ADAMTS1 and hyaluronan. l-carnitine does not alter in vitro follicle survival, growth, or differentiation but increases beta-oxidation and improves oocyte quality.