The dormant and the fully competent oocyte: comparing the transcriptome of human oocytes from primordial follicles and in metaphase II

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Oocytes become enclosed in primordial follicles during fetal life and remain dormant there until activation followed by growth and meiotic resumption. Current knowledge about the molecular pathways involved in oogenesis is incomplete. This study identifies the specific transcriptome of the human oocyte in the quiescent state and at the pinnacle of maturity at ovulation. In silico bioinformatic comparisons were made between the transcriptome of human oocytes from dormant primordial follicles and that of human metaphase II (MII) oocytes and granulosa cells and unique gene expression profiles were identified as well as functional and pathway enrichments associated with the oocytes from the two developmental hallmarks. A total of 729 genes were highly enriched in oocytes from primodial follicles and 1456 genes were highly enriched in MII oocytes (>10-fold, P < 0.001) representing functional categories such as cell cycle regulation, DNA protection and epigenetics, with representative genes validated by qPCR analysis. Dominating canonical pathways in the oocytes from primordial follicles were androgen, estrogen receptor, glucocorticoid receptor and PI3K/AKT signaling (P < 0.001). In the MII, mitotic roles of polo-like kinases, estrogen receptor, JAK/Stat signaling (P < 0.001) and the ERK/MAPK (P < 0.01) signaling were enriched. Some of the highly differentially expressed genes were completely new in human reproduction (CDR1, TLC1A, UHRF2) while other genes [ABO, FOLR1 (folate receptor), CHRNA3 (nicotine receptor)] may relate to clinical observations as diverse as premature ovarian failure, folic acid deficiency and smoking affecting female fertility. The in silico analysis identified novel reproduction-associated genes and highlighted molecular mechanisms and pathways associated with the unique functions of the human oocyte in its two extremes during folliculogenesis. The data provides a fundamental basis for future functional studies in regulation of human oogenesis.

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