Gonadotropin administration during infertility treatment stimulates the growth and development of multiple ovarian follicles, yielding heterogeneous oocytes with variable capacity for fertilization, cleavage, and blastocyst formation. To determine how the intrafollicular environment affects oocyte competency, 74 individual rhesus macaque follicles were aspirated and the corresponding oocytes classified as failed to cleave, cleaved but arrested prior to blastulation, or those that formed blastocysts following in vitro fertilization. Metabolomics analysis of the follicular fluid (FF) identified 60 unique metabolites that were significantly different between embryo classifications, of which a notable increase in the intrafollicular ratio of cortisol to cortisone was observed in the blastocyst group. Immunolocalization of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR, NR3C1) revealed translocation from the cytoplasm to nucleus with oocyte maturation in vitro and, correlation to intrafollicular expression of the 11-hydroxy steroid dehydrogenases that interconvert these glucocorticoids was detected upon an ovulatory stimulus in vivo. While NR3C1 knockdown in oocytes had no effect on their maturation or fertilization, expansion of the associated cumulus granulosa cells was inhibited. Our findings indicate an important role for NR3C1 in the regulation of follicular processes via paracrine signaling. Further studies are required to define the means through which the FF cortisol:cortisone ratio determines oocyte competency.
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