Promotion of EGF receptor signaling improves the quality of low developmental competence oocytes.
Epidermal growth factor (EGF) efficiently stimulates expansion of mouse and rat oocyte-cumulus complexes (OCC). Contradictory data have been published by several laboratories about the ability of EGF to stimulate expansion of porcine OCC. We assumed that these contradictions may have resulted from heterogeneous conditions used for isolation, culture, and assessment of OCC. The present experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that porcine OCC acquire the ability to synthesize hyaluronic acid (HA) and undergo expansion following EGF-stimulation gradually during the growth of follicles. For this reason, we isolated OCC from follicles of different sizes and assessed quantity of produced HA and proportions of expanding OCC after stimulation by EGF. In addition, we assessed in those OCC changes in morphology of cumulus cells and assembly of F-actin microfilaments, which are necessary for expansion to occur. Finally, nuclear maturation of EGF-stimulated OCC was assessed and its relationship with occurrence of expansion was evaluated. In all experiments, OCC stimulated with FSH were used as positive controls. The results showed that EGF did not stimulate production of HA, rearrangement of F-actin and expansion in OCC isolated from small follicles (<4 mm in diameter). OCC isolated from large preovulatory follicles (6-7 mm in diameter and PMSG-stimulated follicles) underwent efficient expansion when stimulated by EGF (93% and 100%, respectively). EGF dramatically stimulated total production of HA in these OCC and its retention in extracellular matrix of the expanding cumulus. Cumulus cells of the large OCC underwent essential changes of their morphology and extensive rearrangement of F-actin microfilaments following stimulation with EGF. Interestingly, EGF enhanced nuclear maturation of OCC isolated from both small and large follicles, which suggest diversity of signaling pathways controlling maturation and expansion. FSH caused cumulus expansion, F-actin remodeling, and enhancement of oocyte nuclear maturation in OCC originated from both small and large follicles. We conclude that EGF can stimulate expansion of porcine OCC in vitro; however, only of those isolated from large follicles. This indicates that EGF may have a physiological role in regulation of porcine cumulus expansion in preovulatory follicles, presumably as a mediator of signals elicited by the LH surge.