Stearoyl-CoA desaturase activity in bovine cumulus cells protects the oocyte against saturated fatty acid stress
Metabolic rich and poor conditions are both characterized by elevated free fatty acid levels and have been associated with impaired female fertility. In particular, saturated free fatty acids have a dose-dependent negative impact on oocyte developmental competence, while monounsaturated free fatty acids appear less harmful. Cumulus cells seem to protect the oocyte against free fatty acids, and the aim of this study was to determine the mechanism behind this protection In particular, the role of the enzyme stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD) that converts saturated into monounsaturated fatty acids was investigated. SCD gene and protein were abundantly expressed in cumulus cells, but expression was low in oocytes. The level of SCD protein expression in cumulus cells did not change when COCs were exposed to saturated stearic acid during maturation. SCD inhibition in the presence of stearic acid significantly reduced the developmental competence of oocytes and increased the incidence of apoptosis in cumulus cells. The esterified oleic/stearic acid ratio of the neutral lipid fraction in cumulus cells decreased in the presence of SCD inhibitors when COCs were exposed to saturated free fatty acids during maturation, indicating the SCD-specific conversion of saturated fatty acids under noninhibiting conditions. The observation that cumulus cells can desaturate the potentially toxic stearic acid into oleic acid via SCD activity provides a mechanistic insight into how the cumulus cells protect the oocyte against toxicity by saturated fatty acid.