The follicle is a unique micro-environment within which the oocyte can develop and mature to a fertilisable gamete. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of a panel of follicular parameters, including intrafollicular steroid and metabolomic profiles and theca, granulosa and cumulus cell candidate gene mRNA abundance, to predict the potential of bovine oocytes to develop to the blastocyst stage in vitro. Individual follicles were dissected from abattoir ovaries, carefully ruptured under a stereomicroscope and the oocyte was recovered and individually processed through in vitro maturation, fertilisation and culture. The mean (±s.e.m.) follicular concentrations of testosterone (62.8±4.8ngmL(-1)), progesterone (616.8±31.9ngmL(-1)) and oestradiol (14.4±2.4ngmL(-1)) were not different (P>0.05) between oocytes that formed (competent) or failed to form (incompetent) blastocysts. Principal-component analysis of the quantified aqueous metabolites in follicular fluid showed differences between oocytes that formed blastocysts and oocytes that degenerated; l-alanine, glycine and l-glutamate were positively correlated and urea was negatively correlated with blastocyst formation. Follicular fluid associated with competent oocytes was significantly lower in palmitic acid (P=0.023) and total fatty acids (P=0.031) and significantly higher in linolenic acid (P=0.036) than follicular fluid from incompetent oocytes. Significantly higher (P<0.05) transcript abundance of LHCGR in granulosa cells, ESR1 and VCAN in thecal cells and TNFAIP6 in cumulus cells was associated with competent compared with incompetent oocytes.
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