In vitro maturation, fertilization and culture (IVM/IVF/IVC) of cattle oocytes from individual cows requires adapting existing culture protocols so that small numbers of oocytes can be cultured. The culture of single oocytes is desirable for correlating the relationship between follicular properties with oocyte developmental competence or for facilitating ovum pick-up procedures. In Experiment 1 we compared group and single culture under cell-free conditions on embryo development; significantly higher (P<0.001) rates of cleavage (66.4 vs 47.6%) and blastocyst formation (7.5 vs 0.5%) were observed in the group cultured oocytes. In Experiment 2 we compared group and single oocyte co-culture with granulosa cells. Although there was no effect of oocyte number on the percentage cleaving (73.1 vs 66.6%), there were significantly higher blastocyst yields (37.4 vs 10.1%) and blastocyst cell numbers (91.6 vs 66.2) in group-cultured oocytes. In Experiment 3 we examined the effect of group size (1, 5, 10, 20 and 40 oocytes) in a co-culture system using granulosa cell monolayers. The results show a difference in cleavage rates between the single cultured oocytes (66.8%) and each group of cultured oocytes, with the highest cleavage rate (81.5%) obtained in the 20-oocyte group. The blastocyst yield from both cleaved and total oocytes showed that group culture of 20 or 40 oocytes resulted in the highest number of blastocysts (32.5%), with smaller group sizes yielding significantly (P<0.05) fewer blastocysts. In Experiment 4 we examined the effects of co-culture on the development of single vs group-cultured oocytes. The results showed no significant difference (P>0.05) in the cleavage rate between single and group culture systems. No blastocysts were formed with single oocytes cultured without monolayers, while the blastocyst formation rate for those co-cultured with granulosa cells was 12.4%. Blastocyst formation was significantly higher (P < 0.006) in group co-culture on monolayers (24.2 vs 8.5%). These data indicate that oocytes cultured in groups are developmentally more competent and suggest that for optimum development oocytes need some undefined paracrine activity that is absent from the culture medium in addition to coculture with granulosa cells, which enhances development to the blastocyst stage of both group and singly cultured oocytes.
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