Follicular fluid steroid profile in sows: Relationship to follicle size and oocyte quality

Costermans, N.G.J.; Soede, N.M.; Tricht, F. Van; Blokland, M.; Kemp, B.; Keijer, J.; Teerds, K.J.


Identification of reliable characteristics of follicle quality and developmental competence has been pursued in numerous studies, but with inconsistent outcomes. Here, we aimed to identify these characteristics by analysis of the follicular fluid (FF) steroid profile in relation to cumulus-oocyte complex (COC) morphology and follicle size, followed by molecular substantiation. Multiparous sows at weaning were used to facilitate analysis at the start of the follicular phase of the oestrus cycle. Sows with a higher average follicle size (≥5 mm vs. < 5 mm) had a higher follicular fluid β-estradiol concentration, but did not differ in other measured steroids. Sows with high compared to low percentage high-quality COCs (<70% vs. ≥70% high-quality) had follicular fluid with a higher concentration of β-estradiol, 19-norandrostenedione, progesterone, and α-testosterone, while the concentration of cortisol was lower. Transcriptome analysis of granulosa cells of healthy follicles of sows with a high percentage high-quality COCs showed higher abundance of transcripts involved in ovarian steroidogenesis (e.g., CYP19A2 and 3, POR, VEGFA) and growth (IGF1) and differential abundance of transcripts involved in granulosa cell apoptosis (e.g., GADD45A, INHBB). Differences in aromatase transcript abundance (CYP19A1, 2 and 3) were confirmed at the protein level. In addition, sows with a high percentage high-quality COCs lost less weight during lactation and had higher plasma IGF1 concentration at weaning, which may have affected COC quality. To the best of our knowledge, this study is also the first to report the relation between FF steroid profile and COC quality.