The objective of this work was to develop an effective vitrification technique for cryopreserving oocytes in sheep ovarian tissues. Ovaries were surgically recovered from 15 pubertal ewes and the ovarian cortex was cut into sections. Ovarian tissues were placed in equilibration medium consisting of 4% (v/v) ethylene glycol (EG) and 20% (v/v) FBS in TCM-199 on ice for 30 min and transferred to vitrification solution (35% EG, 5% polyvinylpyrrolidone, 0.4M trehalose and 20% FBS in TCM-199) for 5 min. Ovarian tissues were vitrified by dropping the tissue on the surface of a steel cube cooled by liquid nitrogen. Cumulus-enclosed oocyte complexes (COC) were also collected and vitrified following the procedure used for ovarian tissues. After 2-3 weeks of storage in liquid nitrogen, ovarian tissues and COC were thawed at 37 degrees C in 0.3M trehalose and COC in ovarian tissues were mechanically and enzymatically isolated. Vitrified COC and freshly collected COC were washed twice in maturation medium (TCM-199 supplemented with 0.255 mM pyruvate and 10% heat-treated estrus cow serum) and cultured in 50 microl drops of maturation medium under paraffin oil for 23-25h at 39 degrees C in a humidified atmosphere of 5% CO(2) in air. After culture, cumulus cells were removed by hyaluronidase treatment and vortexing and oocytes were fixed and stained. No significant differences were observed between vitrified oocytes, oocytes recovered from vitrified ovarian tissues and non-vitrified control oocytes in the percentage of oocytes with acceptable staining per total number of oocytes fixed or with visible chromatin per total number of oocytes with acceptable staining. However, fewer (P<0.05) oocytes obtained from vitrified ovarian tissues (70%) reached metaphase II compared to vitrified oocytes (88%) and non-vitrified control oocytes (90%). In contrast, when oocytes with at least 3-5 layers of cumulus cells were considered from each of the three groups, no differences (P>0.05) were observed due to treatment in the percentages of oocytes developing to metaphase II. These results demonstrate that sheep oocytes can be successfully cryopreserved by vitrification of ovarian tissues and exhibit in vitro maturation rates similar to that of vitrified and non-vitrified oocytes.