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MA Driancourt, K Reynaud, R Cortvrindt, and J Smitz

Evidence from mouse mutants indicates that the Kit gene encoding KIT, a receptor present on the oocyte and theca cells, and the Mgf gene encoding KIT LIGAND, the ligand of KIT, are important regulators of oogenesis and folliculogenesis. Recently, in vitro cultures of fetal gonads, of follicles and of oocytes have identified specific targets for the KIT-KIT LIGAND interaction. In fetal gonads, an anti-apoptotic effect of KIT-KIT LIGAND interactions on primordial germ cells, oogonia and oocytes has been demonstrated. In postnatal ovaries, the initiation of follicular growth from the primordial pool and progression beyond the primary follicle stage appear to involve KIT-KIT LIGAND interactions. During early folliculogenesis, KIT together with KIT LIGAND controls oocyte growth and theca cell differentiation, and protects preantral follicles from apoptosis. Formation of an antral cavity requires a functional KIT-KIT LIGAND system. In large antral follicles, the KIT-KIT LIGAND interaction modulates the ability of the oocyte to undergo cytoplasmic maturation and helps to maximize thecal androgen output. Hence, many steps of oogenesis and folliculogenesis appear to be, at least in part, controlled by paracrine interactions between these two proteins.

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D Nogueira, R Cortvrindt, B Everaerdt, and J Smitz

Germinal vesicle (GV)-stage oocytes retrieved from antral follicles undergo nuclear maturation in vitro, which typically occurs prior to cytoplasmic maturation. Short-term culture with meiotic inhibitors has been applied to arrest oocytes at the GV stage aiming to synchronize nuclear and ooplasmic maturity. However, the results obtained are still far from the in vivo situation. In order to acquire competence, immature oocytes may require meiotic arrest in vitro for a more extended period. The phosphodiesterase type 3-inhibitor (PDE3-I) is a potent meiotic arrester. The effects of a prolonged culture with PDE3-I on oocyte quality prior to and after reversal from the inhibition are not known. This study tested the impact of long-term in vitro exposure of two PDE3-Is, org9935 and cilostamide, on oocytes using a mouse follicle culture model. The results showed that PDE3-I (maximum of 10 μM) during a 12-day culture of follicle-enclosed oocytes did not alter somatic cell proliferation, differentiation or follicle survival. In addition, the steroid production profile was not significantly modified by a 12-day exposure to PDE3-I. The recombinant human chorionic gonadotrophin/recombinant human epidermal growth factor stimulus induced a characteristic normal progesterone peak of luteinization and normal mucification of the cumulus cells, while the enclosed oocyte remained blocked at the GV stage. In vitro maturation of denuded or cumulus-enclosed oocytes derived from org9935- or cilostamide-exposed follicles progressed through meiosis and formed morphologically normal meiotic spindles with chromosomes properly aligned at the equator. In conclusion, long-term culture with PDE3-I was harmless to somatic cell function, differentiation, oocyte growth and maturation. Our results suggested that PDE3-I can be applied when extended oocyte culture is required to improve ooplasmic maturation.

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K Reynaud, R Cortvrindt, J Smitz, F Bernex, JJ Panthier, and MA Driancourt

The KIT receptor, present on oocyte and theca cells in ovarian follicles, and its ligand, KIT LIGAND, produced by granulosa cells, are encoded at the Kit gene and the Mgf gene, respectively. Both Kit and Mgf mutations affect oogenesis and folliculogenesis. In this study, the ovarian function of heterozygous mice with a mutation Kit(W-lacZ) was examined. Firstly, the amounts of KIT and KIT LIGAND proteins in the ovaries of mice at different ages were determined. Secondly, in vivo and in vitro folliculogenesis of wild type and heterozygous mice were compared. Western blotting showed that the amounts of both KIT and KIT LIGAND proteins were decreased in mutant mice. Ovarian follicle populations were counted and more type 5a follicles and fewer type 5b (preantral follicles) were present in ovaries from Kit(W-lacZ/+) ovaries. Furthermore, the relationships between oocyte size and follicle size differed between wild type and heterozygous mice. This finding may be a consequence of altered proliferation of granulosa cells or of altered oocyte growth in mutant mice. Other features of folliculogenesis, such as initiation of follicular growth, total follicle population and follicular atresia, were not affected by the mutation. Analysis of in vitro folliculogenesis did not reveal other differences between wild type and mutant mice. It is concluded that the Kit(W-lacZ) mutation affects the expression of KIT and KIT LIGAND proteins, resulting in alterations in granulosa cell proliferation and/or oocyte growth in preantral follicles.