The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides a three-dimensional structure that promotes and regulates cell adhesion and provides signals that direct the cellular processes leading to tissue development. In this report, synthetic matrices that present defined ECM components were employed to investigate these signaling effects on tissue formation using ovarian follicle maturation as a model system. In vitro systems for follicle culture are being developed to preserve fertility for women, and cultures were performed to test the hypothesis that the ECM regulates follicle maturation in a manner that is dependent on both the ECM identity and the stage of follicle development. Immature mouse follicles were cultured within alginate-based matrices that were modified with specific ECM components (e.g., laminin) or RGD peptides. The matrix maintains the in vivo like morphology of the follicle and provides an environment that supports follicle development. The ECM components signal the somatic cells of the follicle, affecting their growth and differentiation, and unexpectedly also affect the meiotic competence of the oocyte. These effects depend upon both the identity of the ECM components and the initial stage of the follicle, indicating that the ECM is a dynamic regulator of follicle development. The development of synthetic matrices that promote follicle maturation to produce meiotically competent oocytes may provide a mechanism to preserve fertility, or more generally, provide design principles for scaffold-based approaches to tissue engineering.