Follicular somatic cells (mural granulosa cells and cumulus cells) and the oocyte communicate through paracrine interactions and through direct gap junctions between oocyte and cumulus cells. Considering that mural and cumulus cells arise through a common developmental pathway and that their differentiation is essential to reproductive success, understanding how these cells differ is a key aspect to understanding their critical functions. Changes in global gene expression before and after an ovulatory stimulus were compared between cumulus and mural granulosa cells to test the hypothesis that mural and cumulus cells are highly differentiated at the time of an ovulatory stimulus and further differentiate during the periovulatory interval. The transcriptomes of the two cell types were markedly different (-1500 genes) before an ovulatory hCG bolus but converged after ovulation to become completely overlapping. The predominant transition was for the cumulus cells to become more like mural cells after hCG. This indicates that the differentiated phenotype of the cumulus cell is not stable and irreversibly established but may rather be an ongoing physiological response to the oocyte.
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