Age-associated increased stiffness of the ovarian microenvironment impairs follicle development and oocyte quality and rapidly alters follicle gene expression

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Age-associated increased stiffness of the ovarian microenvironment impairs follicle development and oocyte quality and rapidly alters follicle gene expression

Authors

Pietroforte, S.; Plough, M.; Amargant, F.

Abstract

In humans, aging triggers cellular and tissue deterioration, and the female reproductive system is the first to show signs of decline. Reproductive aging is associated with decreased ovarian reserve, decreased quality of the remaining oocytes, and decreased production of the ovarian hormones estrogen and progesterone. With aging, both mouse and human ovaries become pro-fibrotic and stiff. However, whether stiffness directly impairs ovarian function, folliculogenesis, and oocyte quality is unknown. To answer this question, we cultured mouse follicles in alginate gels that mimicked the stiffness of reproductively young and old ovaries. Follicles cultured in stiff hydrogels exhibited decreased survival and growth, decreased granulosa cell viability and estradiol synthesis, and decreased oocyte quality. We also observed a reduction in the number of granulosa cell-oocyte transzonal projections. RNA sequencing revealed early changes in the follicle transcriptome in response to stiffness. Follicles cultured in a stiff environment had lower expression of genes related to follicle development and greater expression of genes related to inflammation and extracellular matrix remodeling than follicles cultured in a soft environment. Altogether, our findings suggest that ovarian stiffness directly modulates folliculogenesis and contributes to the progressive decline in oocyte quantity and quality observed in women of advanced maternal age.

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