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Mol Reprod Dev. 1991 Mar;28(3):297-306.

Maturation of the rat cumulus-oocyte complex: structure and function.

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Population Council, New York, New York 10021.


The cumulus cells that surround the mammalian oocyte become dispersed following the preovulatory surge of the pituitary gonadotropin, luteinizing hormone (LH). We have examined cumulus-oocyte complexes of PMSG-primed immature rats before and at 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 hr after injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which acts on the rat ovary like the pituitary gonadotropin. Associations between projections of the cumulus cells and the oocyte were analyzed in thin sections. We observed that some cumulus projections were greatly enlarged where they associate with the oocyte. These enlarged regions were filled with numerous small vesicles. Gap junctions between cumulus cell projections and the oocytes were small. We quantitated the number and size of gap junctions between cumulus cells. The number of small gap junctions (less than 1 microM) between cumulus cells did not change significantly over the 8-hr period after hCG administration. Larger gap junctions, however, showed a general downward trend beginning after the third hour post hCG. Light microscopic observations of plastic sections revealed that dispersion of the cumulus oophorus is not observed until after 4 hr post-hCG, but between 4 and 8 hr after gonadotropin administration the cumulus becomes markedly dispersed. In the majority of the oocytes in these complexes the germinal vesicle (GV) displayed some irregularity in shape at 2 hr post-hCG, although absence of the GV was not observed until later. Our observations suggest a new means of communication in the cumulus-oocyte complex by the vesicle-filled enlargements of the cumulus cell projections at the oocyte surface. They further indicate that the decrease in metabolic coupling observed in rat cumulus-oocyte complexes soon after exposure to LH is not associated with a change in number and size of the gap junctions between the cumulus cells. We suggest that it is either the disruption of the gap junctions at the region of contact of the cumulus cell projections with the oocyte surface or the operation of a gating mechanism that blocks the junctional channels without affecting their morphological appearance that is responsible for uncoupling of the oocyte from the cumulus cells.

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