While formation of the expanded cumulus matrix and its importance for oocyte maturation and ovulation are well described, its function in these processes remains unknown. The degree of expansion and expression of cumulus matrix genes are positively correlated with oocyte quality, suggesting that this matrix plays a key role in oocyte maturation. Based on recognized filtration properties of analogous matrices, we investigated whether the cumulus matrix acts as a molecular filter by assessing diffusion of fluorescently labeled dextrans (neutral and negatively charged) and hydrophilic (glucose) and hydrophobic (cholesterol) metabolites in cumulus oocyte complexes (COCs). Expanded in vivo-matured COCs resisted absorption of glucose and cholesterol compared to unexpanded COCs. In vitro-matured (IVM) COCs have a pronounced deficiency in cumulus matrix proteins and have poor oocyte quality. Here we demonstrate that IVM cumulus matrix has deficient filtration properties, with dextran and glucose and cholesterol molecules diffusing more readily into IVM than in vivo-matured COCs. Taking the inverse approach, we found that prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), synthesized by cumulus cells, is retained within the matrix of in vivo-matured COCs but IVM COCs have reduced capacity to retain PGE2, secreting significantly more into the medium. This is the first demonstration of a biophysical property of the cumulus matrix. The ability to regulate metabolite supply from the surrounding environment while sequestering vital signaling factors, such as PGE2, is likely to impact oocyte maturation. Thus, IVM may reduce oocyte quality due to dysregulated control of metabolites and signaling molecules.
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Vol. 87 • No. 4