Relationships among oocyte-cumulus morphology, follicular atresia, initial chromatin configuration, and oocyte meiotic competence in the horse.
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Horse oocytes with expanded (EX) cumuli appear to have greater meiotic competence than do horse oocytes with compact (CP) cumuli but are thought to come from atretic follicles. We evaluated the relationships among cumulus expansion, follicle viability, initial chromatin configuration, and meiotic competence of horse oocytes. Follicle walls were sectioned for histological examination, and the follicles were scraped to obtain the oocytes. Half of the oocytes were evaluated immediately and half were matured for 24 h in vitro. Cumulus expansion was significantly associated with follicle atresia. Initially, significantly more EX than CP oocytes had chromatin condensed into one mass within the germinal vesicle (CC configuration; 61% vs. 32%). After culture, significantly more EX than CP oocytes had matured (74% vs. 30%). The proportion of oocytes with the CC configuration was lowest in viable follicles and increased in follicles with slight to moderate atresia. The maturation rate of oocytes from viable follicles was significantly lower than for oocytes from follicles with slight or moderate atresia. The CC chromatin configuration appears to be associated with meiotic competence in horse oocytes. The association of follicle atresia with increased meiotic competence suggests that acquisition of meiotic competence is related to a loss of suppressive activity by the degenerating follicle.