Investigation of exposure to lifestyle and environmental factors on cumulus-oocyte complex function
Pathways involved in bi-directional communication within the cumulus-oocyte complex (COC) include gap junction (GJ) communication, oocyte growth factor production, and glucose metabolism and are essential for oocyte health. Perturbation of these pathways may result in reduced oocyte quality due to altered COC function. Using rats as a model, in vitro effects of exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), caffeine, nicotine, ethanol, methylenedioxymeth- amphetamine (MDMA), or Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on COC function were investigated. Furthermore, MDMA was administered to rats to compare in vitro with in vivo effects. The transfer of a fluorescent dye (calcein) from cumulus cells (CC) to the oocyte was used as a measure of GJ communication. Expression of CC-derived (Atr, Cx43, Cycs, Gfpt1, Pfkp) and oocyte-derived (Atr, Bmp15, Cx37, Gdf9) genes were measured using multiplex TaqMan quantitative PCR. Levels of CX43 and GDF9 proteins were quantified using Western blotting. Optimisation of the GJ bioassay included the addition of phosphodiesterase inhibitors (rolipram and dipyridamole), and a 1 hour post-calcein incubation period to allow dye transfer. Quantification of gene expression in calcein-treated CC and oocytes was validated, enabling direct comparisons between GJ communication and gene expression. To determine the in vitro effects, COC were incubated with test factors at high physiological concentrations over 25 hours. GJ communication decreased over time in control COC. This reduction was attenuated after exposure to BPA and nicotine, and partially by caffeine. Furthermore, exposure to ethanol maintained oocyte meiotic arrest, whereas MDMA and THC promoted meiotic resumption. Oocyte-derived gene expression was mostly unaffected by in vitro exposure to the lifestyle and environmental factors, although a treatment x time interaction for Cx37 levels following nicotine exposure was observed. Of the CC-derived genes, Cx43 was the most sensitive where BPA, MDMA, and THC increased, and caffeine and ethanol decreased, expression. In CC, exposure to MDMA and THC increased Gfpt1 levels and exposure to MDMA resulted in a treatment x time interaction in Cycs and Pfkp expression. In COC, caffeine increased CX43 protein levels after 1 hour. Nicotine initially reduced, but with time increased CX43 levels. Furthermore, CX43 levels decreased and increased after 25 hour exposures to ethanol and MDMA, respectively. GDF9 protein levels in COC exhibited wide within-treatment variation. Overall, BPA and caffeine reduced GDF9 levels after 1 hour whereas GDF9 levels were increased following exposure to BPA, caffeine, MDMA, and THC for 25 hours. To determine in vivo effects, female rats were administered saline or 5 mg/kg/day MDMA for 3 days. COC from MDMA-treated rats had higher levels of CX43 protein but gene expression and meiotic reactivation were unaffected. In conclusion, COC function was altered by in vitro exposure to BPA, caffeine, ethanol, nicotine, MDMA, and THC. Furthermore, in vivo exposure to MDMA elicits similar, albeit reduced, effects on COC function. A role for CC in protecting the oocyte from harmful contaminants is proposed. Perturbation of the bi-directional communication pathway is likely to influence oocyte quality due to alterations in nutrient availability and timing of follicular events, although these may not be associated with negative outcomes. This study provides evidence that exposure to lifestyle factors and environmental contaminants affect COC function.