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Evelyn E Telfer

Ovarian cryopreservation rapidly developed from basic science to clinical application and can now be used to preserve the fertility of girls and young women at high risk of sterility. Primordial follicles can be cryopreserved in ovarian cortex for long-term storage and subsequently autografted back at an orthotopic or heterotopic site to restore fertility. However, autografting carries a risk of re-introducing cancer cells in patients with blood-born leukaemias or cancers with a high risk of ovarian metastasis. For these women fertility restoration could only be safely achieved in the laboratory by the complete in vitro growth (IVG) and maturation (IVM) of cryopreserved primordial follicles to fertile metaphase II (MII) oocytes. Culture systems to support the development of human oocytes have provided greater insight into the process of human oocyte development as well as having potential applications within the field of fertility preservation. The technology required to culture human follicles is extremely challenging, but significant advances have been made using animal models and translation to human. This review will detail the progress that has been made in developing human in vitro growth systems and consider the steps required to progress this technology towards clinical application.

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Marie McLaughlin and Evelyn E Telfer

Quiescent follicles of large mammals initiate growth within cultured pieces of ovarian cortex. Systems capable of sustaining in vitro development from this early stage until oocyte maturation would allow investigation of mechanisms regulating oocyte development in its entirety. The aims of this study were 1) to determine whether bovine follicles initiated to grow in vitro could be isolated from the cortical environment, and could undergo further development and 2) to evaluate the effect of activin and FSH on the development of secondary follicles derived from primordial follicles. Fragments of bovine ovarian cortex were cultured in serum-free medium for 6 days; thereafter, secondary follicles were isolated for further culture. After a maximum total of 21 days in vitro, follicles were either processed for histological assessment or opened to release the oocyte–cumulus complexes for inspection by light microscopy. Compared with control, significant follicle and oocyte growth were observed in activin-exposed follicles, with or without FSH, with some oocyte diameters measuring over 100 microns following a total in vitro period of 15 days. Significant oestradiol secretion was observed in follicles cultured in activin alone after a total of 9 days in vitro compared with other treatment groups; however, this effect was not sustained. In summary, this study demonstrates the promotion of primordial bovine follicle development within a two-step serum-free culture system with oocyte diameters >100 μm achieved over 15 days in vitro. Further development of this system is needed to support complete oocyte growth and thereafter in vitro maturation.

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Fiona H Thomas, Bruce K Campbell, David G Armstrong, and Evelyn E Telfer

The aim of this study was to determine the effect of regulation of IGF-I bioavailability on preantral follicle development in vitro. Bovine preantral follicles were cultured for 6 days in serum-free medium with increasing doses of Long R3 (LR3) IGF-I (an analog with low affinity for IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs)), or human recombinant IGF-I (hrIGF-I). Follicle diameter and estradiol production were measured every second day. On day 6, ratios of oocyte/follicle diameter and oocyte morphology were assessed by histological examination, and IGFBP-2 and -3 were detected by immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization respectively. Both types of IGF-I increased follicle diameter in a dose-dependent manner (P < 0.05) and increased estradiol production over control levels (P < 0.05). However, follicles treated with LR3 IGF-I and the highest concentration of hrIGF-I (1000 ng/ml) had smaller oocyte/follicle ratios, and increased oocyte degeneration, compared with controls or follicles treated with physiological concentrations of hrIGF-I (P < 0.05). IGFBPs were detected in cultured preantral follicles, indicating a requirement for regulation of IGF bioavailability during the early stages of follicular development. Specifically, IGFBP-3 mRNA was found to be expressed in oocytes, and IGFBP-2 immunoreactivity was detected in oocytes and granulosa cells of cultured follicles. In summary, the regulation of IGF-I bioavailability by IGFBPs is necessary for the co-ordination of oocyte and follicle development in vitro.

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Kirsty A Walters, John P Binnie, Bruce K Campbell, David G Armstrong, and Evelyn E Telfer

This study aimed to determine the effect of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) on early antral bovine follicular development, and the expression of insulin-like growth factor-binding protein-2 (IGFBP-2). Antral follicles separated into three different size groups were cultured for 6 days in medium supplemented with either a low (10 ng/ml) or high (1 μg/ml) dose of human recombinant IGF-I. Oestradiol production by follicles in all size ranges, cultured in the presence of the high concentration of IGF-I, significantly increased by day 6 (P < 0.05). Follicles in the smallest size range, 165–215 μm, cultured in a high dose of IGF-I, were found to be significantly increased in size (P < 0.01). Oocyte health of the largest follicles (281–380 μm) was significantly improved by the addition of IGF-I to the culture medium. mRNA expression of IGFBP-2 was decreased in the granulosa cells of follicles, size range 216–280 μm, cultured with a high dose of IGF-I (P < 0.05). Granulosa cells (P < 0.05) and oocytes (P < 0.01) of the largest follicles (281–380 μm) showed a decrease in IGFBP-2 expression (protein) when cultured in the control and low-IGF-I treatment groups. Therefore, the response of a bovine follicle to IGF-I is both dose and stage dependent. This work supports a role for IGF-I in modulating somatic and germ-cell maturation and development in early antral follicles. Furthermore, the inverse relationship between the level of IGF-I stimulation and IGFBP-2 expression suggests a local regulatory system modulating IGF-I availability.