The intrafollicular content of LH receptor, α-inhibin, and aromatase are known good indicators of follicular status. We investigated the amounts of these proteins in granulosa and cumulus cells in relation to oocyte competence for in vitro maturation, follicular growth, and estrous cycle stage in the mare.
Follicular punctures were performed 34 h after an injection of crude equine gonadotropins, either during the follicular phase, at the end of the follicular phase, or during the luteal phase. The cumulus-oocyte complex, granulosa cells, and follicular fluid of follicles larger than 5 mm were collected. The nuclear stage of the oocytes after in vitro culture was determined microscopically. Granulosa and cumulus cell amounts of LH receptor, α-inhibin, and aromatase were assessed by the semiquantitative Western blot method and image analysis. Follicular fluids were assayed for progesterone (P4) and estradiol-17β (E2).
The three factors were expressed in mural granulosa and cumulus cells from all follicles from the gonadotropin-independent growth period until the preovulatory stage. Considering all the follicles punctured, the amounts of LH receptor and α-inhibin in granulosa cells were not different for the three physiological stages studied. The amounts of aromatase in granulosa cells, as well as the E2:P4 ratios, were higher for follicles punctured during the follicular phase than for the two other groups (p < 0.05). Considering the data from the three groups, the E2:P4 ratio and the LH receptor and aromatase contents, but not α-inhibin, in granulosa cells increased with an increase in follicular diameter (p < 0.01). The E2:P4 ratios and the amounts of LH receptor, α-inhibin, and aromatase in granulosa cells were lower in follicles 5–9 mm in diameter than in larger ones (p < 0.05). In cumulus cells, the amounts of the three factors were different neither between the three groups nor between the follicular diameters.
Although we could not establish any obvious relationship to oocyte competence for in vitro maturation, the influence of the follicle diameter on the content of LH receptors, α-inhibin, and aromatase in granulosa cells was similar to the influence of follicle diameter on oocyte competence. Therefore, one can hypothesize that, in the mare, there is a link between the acquisition of oocyte competence and the expression of these factors in the follicular cells.