The proposed culture system improves the current state of in vitro culture of growing oocytes in the bovine species and allows access to the untapped gamete reserve, thus improving reproductive efficiency.
The present study aimed to improve the in vitro culture of bovine oocytes collected from early antral follicles (EAFs) to support the progressive acquisition of meiotic and developmental competence. The rationale that drove the development of such a culture system was to maintain as much as possible the physiological conditions that support the oocyte growth and differentiation in vivo. To this extent, oocytes were cultured for 5 days, which parallels the transition from early to medium antral follicles (MAFs) in the bovine, and supports promoting a 3D-like structure were provided. Additionally, the main hormones (follicle-stimulating hormone, estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone) were added in concentrations similar to the ones previously observed in bovine EAFs. The meiotic arrest was imposed using cilostamide. The cultured cumulus–oocyte complexes (COCs) reached a mean diameter of 113.4 ± 0.75 µm and showed a progressive condensation of the chromatin enclosed in the germinal vesicle (GV), together with a gradual decrease in the global transcriptional activity, measured by 5-ethynyl uridine incorporation. The described morpho-functional changes were accompanied by an increased ability to mature and develop to the blastocyst stage in vitro, although not matching the rates obtained by MAF-retrieved oocytes. The described system improves the current state of in vitro culture of growing oocytes in the bovine species, and it can be used to increase the number of gametes usable for in vitro embryo production in animals of high genetic merit or with specific desirable traits.