Stress can affect reproductive performance of lactating cows by targeting the ovarian pool of follicles and their enclosed oocytes. Among the documented stressors are heat stress (i.e., high temperature-humidity index) as well as environmental and food toxins. Oocytes collected during the hot season are of lower quality than those collected in the winter, expressed by reduced oocyte maturation and developmental competence. A similar pattern has been reported for oocytes exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Whereas the underlying mechanism might differ among stressors, accumulating evidence suggests that stress-induced impairment of oocyte developmental competence involves alterations in mitochondrial functioning. Within the oocyte, mitochondria are involved in ATP generation, calcium homeostasis, regulation of cytoplasmic reduction–oxidation, signal transduction, and apoptosis. Summer heat stress is strongly associated with alterations in mitochondrial distribution and alterations in mitochondria membrane potential. Heat stress impairs the expression of mitochondrion-associated genes, in particular those related to mitochondrial DNA transcription and replication and encoding oxidative phosphorylation complexes for ATP production. Reduction of ATP levels below the required threshold is suggested to compromise the progression of oocyte maturation and, subsequently, embryonic development. Another mechanism associated with mitochondrial function is the increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS), which has been documented in oocytes exposed to heat stress or environmental toxicants. Oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria is the major source of ROS. Under physiological conditions, ROS are essential for nuclear maturation; however, disequilibrium between ROS production and antioxidative capacity might lead to DNA damage and apoptosis. The current review provides new insights into the oocyte's cellular and molecular responses to stress with an emphasis on the mitochondria. It discusses some strategies to mitigate the effects of stress on the mitochondria, such as incorporation of coenzyme Q10—a key component of the mitochondrial respiratory chain—administration of antioxidants, and injection of healthy mitochondria. Exploring the oocyte's cellular and molecular responses, in particular that of the mitochondria, might lead to the development of new strategies to mitigate the effects of various stressors on fertility.
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© 2018 American Dairy Science Association
- oocyte developmental competence