Reduced oocyte quality has been associated with poor fertility of high-performance dairy cows during peak lactation, due to negative energy balance. We examined the role of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFAs), known to accumulate within follicular fluid during under- and overnutrition scenarios, in causing endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress of in vitro maturated cattle cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs). NEFA concentrations were: palmitic acid (150 μM), oleic acid (200 μM), and steric acid (75 μM). Abattoir-derived COCs were randomly matured for 24 h in the presence of NEFAs and/or an ER stress inhibitor, salubrinal. Total and hatched blastocyst yields were negatively impacted by NEFA treatment compared with controls, but this was reversed by salubrinal. ER stress markers, activating transcription factor 4 (Atf4) and heat shock protein 5 (Hspa5), but not Atf6, were significantly up-regulated by NEFA treatment within whole COCs but reversed by coincubation with salubrinal. Likewise, glucose uptake and lactate production, measured in spent medium samples, showed a similar pattern, suggesting that cumulus cell metabolism is sensitive to NEFAs via an ER stress-mediated process. In contrast, while mitochondrial DNA copy number was recovered in NEFA-treated oocytes, oocyte autofluorescence of the respiratory chain cofactor, FAD, was lower following NEFA treatment of COCs, and this was not reversed by salubrinal, suggesting the negative impact was via reduced mitochondrial function. These results reveal the significance of NEFA-induced ER stress on bovine COC developmental competence, revealing a potential therapeutic target for improving oocyte quality during peak lactation.
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Vol. 94 • No. 1