Background: In vitro follicle growth is a promising fertility preservation strategy in which ovarian follicles are cultured to produce mature and fertilization-competent oocytes. However, in primates, there has been limited success with in vitro follicle growth starting from primordial and primary follicles because adequate isolation methods and culture strategies have not been established. Understanding how to use primordial follicles for fertility preservation has significant implications because these follicles are the most abundant in the ovary, are found in all females and are fairly resistant to cryopreservation and chemotherapeutics.
Methods: In the primate ovary, primordial follicles are concentrated near the collagen-rich ovarian cortex. To obtain these follicles, we separated the ovarian cortex prior to enzymatic digestion and enriched the primordial follicle concentration by using a novel double filtration system. To test the hypothesis that a rigid physical environment, as found in vivo, is optimal for survival, primordial follicles were cultured in different concentrations of alginate for up to 6 days. Follicle survival and morphology were monitored throughout the culture.
Results: We found that primate ovarian tissue can be maintained for up to 24 h at 4°C without compromising tissue or follicle health. Hundreds of intact and viable primordial follicles were isolated from each ovary independent of animal age. Follicle survival and morphology were more optimal when follicles were cultured in 2% alginate compared with 0.5% alginate.
Conclusions: By mimicking the rigid ovarian environment through the use of biomaterials, we have established conditions that support primordial follicle culture. These results lay the foundations for studying the basic biology of primordial follicles in a controlled environment and for using primordial follicles for fertility preservation methods.