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H Funahashi, H Ekwall, K Kikuchi and H Rodriguez-Martinez

The aim of this study was to determine the ultrastructure of cross-sectioned zonae pellucidae of in vitro-matured and ovulated pig oocytes before or after sperm penetration in vitro and in vivo, respectively. The in vitro and in vivo (ovulated) oocytes and zygotes (fertilized in vitro and in vivo) were fixed with glutaraldehyde either directly or after pretreatment with ruthenium red and saponin, processed and then examined using transmission electron microscopy. The thickness of the zona pellucida, as measured on the section of the specimens with largest diameter fixed with glutaraldehyde, differed between the in vivo (9.19 +/- 0.47 microm) and in vitro (5.95 +/- 0.51 microm) oocytes. The in vivo oocytes had a rather thick external mesh-like structure, whereas it was much thinner in the in vitro oocytes. This mesh-like external rim was less apparent in both in vivo and in vitro zygotes. Obvious differences in the density of the lattice formed by the fixed zonae pellucidae were visible between the outer and inner (ad-oolemmal) zonae. The outer area always formed a concentrically arrayed fibrillar network, whereas the inner area showed a much more compact, trabecule-like mesh. However, both areas, but particularly the outer network, were much more compacted after the zona reaction. Clear differences in the degree of fibrillar aggregation of the inner zona area were also observed between in vitro and in vivo zygotes, being much higher in the latter. This fibrillar network was more clearly visible in the zygotes pretreated with ruthenium red and saponin; the in vitro zygotes had a fibrillar, radially oriented set of parallel fibrils, whereas it was much more aggregated and trabecule-like in the in vivo zygotes. These results demonstrate that the fine structure of the zona pellucida and the zona reaction at sperm penetration differ between pig oocytes fertilized in vivo and in vitro. Moreover, the ultrastructure of the outer and inner pig zonae pellucidae has a different network organization.

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K. Kikuchi, Y. Izaike, J. Noguchi, T. Furukawa, F. P. Daen, K. Naito and Y. Toyoda

Changes of histone H1 kinase activity before and after electrical stimulation were connected with the ability of cytoplasm of pig oocytes to be activated parthenogenetically when matured and aged in vitro. Cumulus–oocyte complexes were collected from prepubertal gilts and cultured in a modified Waymouth's MB752/1 medium. The first mature oocytes were observed after 30 h of culture. After 36 h of culture, about 65% of oocytes had matured (reached metaphase II stage with the first polar body). When oocytes matured after 36 h of culture were stimulated with an electric pulse and subsequently cultured for 10 h, only 7% became parthenogenetically activated (formation of a female pronucleus). When oocytes matured for 60 h and 72 h underwent the same treatment, significantly more became activated parthenogenetically (46% and 57%, respectively). Oocytes matured for 72 h but not stimulated electrically also exhibited high spontaneous parthenogenetic activation (24%). Activation of oocytes resulted either in the formation of a female pronucleus(ei) or in fragmentation of oocytes. Fragmentation in stimulated and nonstimulated oocytes increased significantly after 72 h of culture (37% and 18%, respectively). Histone H1 kinase activity in immature oocytes at the germinal vesicle stage was low (17.2 fmol h−1 per oocyte). However, when oocytes were cultured for 36 and 48 h, histone H1 kinase activity increased significantly (168.2 and 138.5 fmol h−1 per oocyte, respectively). Prolonged culture (60 h and 72 h) resulted in a significant decrease in histone H1 kinase activity (94.3 and 49.3 fmol h−1 per oocyte, respectively). When oocytes cultured for up to 72 h were electrically stimulated, histone H1 kinase activity in activated oocytes (oocytes that formed a female pronucleus and fragmented oocytes) was significantly lower (24.7 mol h−1 per oocyte) than that in nonactivated oocytes (99.9 mol h−1 per oocyte). The present data clearly indicate that the gradual decrease of histone H1 kinase activity is correlated with ageing of oocytes matured in vitro and with their ability to be parthenogenetically activated.

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A Shimada, K Kikuchi, J Noguchi, K Akama, M Nakano and H Kaneko

The correlation between morphological changes and the dynamics of protamine in boar sperm chromatin during in vitro fertilization of pig oocytes matured in vitro was assessed. For this purpose, protamine was purified from boar sperm nuclei and an antiserum against protamine was developed. After affinity purification, the antiserum reacted exclusively with boar protamine during western blotting, showing no crossreactivity with core histones. Immunohistochemical evaluation revealed that only fully developed spermatid nuclei in boar testes stained strongly with the antiserum. When pig oocytes matured in vitro were fertilized in vitro, sperm penetration was observed in 37% of oocytes at 2 h after insemination and the penetration rate increased to 99% by 5 h after insemination, accompanied by an increase in polyspermic penetration. Paraffin wax sections of the inseminated oocytes were examined by immunohistochemical analysis with the antiserum. The proportion of condensed sperm nuclei that reacted with the antiserum was 87% of the sperm nuclei that penetrated by 2 h after insemination, and this decreased to 20 and 13% at 3 and 5 h after insemination, respectively. However, none of the decondensing sperm nuclei or male pronuclei reacted with the antiserum during the entire insemination period. These results indicate that a specific antiserum against boar protamine can be raised and, using this serum, it has been demonstrated that protamine is dissociated from boar sperm nuclei before decondensation during in vitro fertilization.

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K. Kikuchi, T. Nagai, J. Ding, N. Yamauchi, J. Noguchi and Y. Izaike

A large population (62–90% of pig follicular oocytes can mature to metaphase II after culture for 48 h. However, a proportion (6–22%) remain in an immature stage at metaphase I (metaphase I-arrested). The main objective of this study was to determine whether the cytoplasm of metaphase I-arrested pig oocytes is capable of being activated by sperm penetration or parthenogenetic stimulation. After culture for 48 h, oocytes without a polar body (73% were shown to be at metaphase I after staining) and those with a polar body (94% were at metaphase II) were fertilized in vitro. A total of 69% and 62% of the oocytes were activated to form a female pronucleus, respectively, and the rate of polar body extrusion induced by fertilization in the activated oocytes was 90% (the first polar body) and 95% (the second polar body), respectively. When oocytes without and with a polar body were stimulated with an electric pulse, 53% and 81% of the oocytes were activated, respectively. The rate of polar body extrusion in the activated oocytes was 73% (the first polar body) and 79% (the second polar body), respectively. In contrast, young metaphase I oocytes cultured for 24 h had low (6%) or zero activation rate after in vitro fertilization or electric pulse stimulation. However, about one-third of the young metaphase I oocytes penetrated by spermatozoa after in vitro fertilization responded to electric pulse 12 h after insemination, and almost all (93%) were activated when they were stimulated 24 h after insemination. Patterns of polypeptide synthesis and histone H1 kinase activity were similar in metaphase I-arrested and metaphase II oocytes, and were characterized by increase in a 25 kDa polypeptide and by decrease in kinase activity. Although the first step of meiotic division is impaired, these results indicate that metaphase I-arrested oocytes are mature cytoplasmically.

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Y Nakazawa, A Shimada, J Noguchi, I Domeki, H Kaneko and K Kikuchi

Sperm-specific nuclear protamines are dissociated before decondensation of sperm nuclei during fertilization in pigs. In the present study, replacement of nuclear protein by histone in boar spermatozoa during in vitro fertilization was evaluated by immunohistochemistry using anti-histone antibody. First, the specificity of the antibody used in this study was examined. Immunohistochemistry of the testes and epididymides indicated that somatic nuclei, but not elongated spermatids or maturing spermatozoa, were immunoreactive. Furthermore, immunoreaction was diminished after the antibody had been preincubated with unfractionated histone, indicating that the antibody was specific for the somatic nuclear histone. Immunohistochemistry of serial sections of oocytes, which were matured and co-cultured with boar spermatozoa for 2 to 6 h indicated that, at 2 to 3 h after insemination, penetrating sperm nuclei in the condensed state were not immunoreactive. At 4 to 5 h after insemination, some of the condensed sperm nuclei were immunoreactive in part or over the whole area of the nucleus, and all of the decondensing nuclei and male pronuclei were immunoreactive. At 6 h after insemination, the decondensing sperm nuclei and well-developed male pronuclei were immunoreactive. These results imply that, in pigs, remodelling of sperm nuclear protein from protamine to histone is initiated at the time of sperm penetration, before onset of decondensation and male pronuclear formation.

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R. Procházka, E. Nagyová, Z. Rimkevičová, T. Nagai, K. Kikuchi and J. Motlík

Summary. Oocyte–cumulus cell complexes (OCC) and complexes with an attached piece of membrana granulosa (C + P), isolated from prepubertal or cyclic gilts stimulated with pregnant mares' serum gonadotrophin, were cultured in media supplemented with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH; 0·01–1·0 μg/ml) or forskolin (50–100 μmol/l) for 24 and 32 h. FSH and forskolin each induced dose-dependent cumulus and membrana granulosa expansion. After 2 h of culture, FSH (0·1 μg/ml) or forskolin (100 μmol/l) increased the contents of intracellular adenosine 3′,5′-phosphate (cAMP) in OCC from prepubertal gilts to almost 10 times that in unstimulated complexes. After 24 h of culture in media supplemented with FSH (0·1 μg/ml) or forskolin (100 μmol/l), the oocytectomized OCC and C + P showed similar expansion to that of the control groups. The intracellular cAMP contents in intact and oocytectomized OCCs were similar in all groups except those treated with FSH, in which the intact OCCs had significantly higher contents than their oocytectomized counterparts (P < 0·01). After hyaluronidase treatment, cumulus and membrana granulosa cells of intact and oocytectomized OCC and C + P were suspended, except for those of the innermost layers of the corona radiata. The results suggest that increases in cAMP contents and synthesis of an extracellular, hyaluronidase-sensitive mucus by pig OCC and C + P induced by FSH or forskolin are not dependent on the oocyte.

Keywords: FSH; cumulus expansion; hyaluronidase; oocytectomy; pig