Decreasing oocyte competence with maternal aging is a major factor in human infertility. To investigate the age-dependent molecular changes in a mouse model, we compared the expression profiles of metaphase II oocytes collected from 5- to 6-week-old mice with those collected from 42- to 45-week-old mice using the NIA 22K 60-mer oligo microarray. Among approximately 11 000 genes whose transcripts were detected in oocytes, about 5% (530) showed statistically significant expression changes, excluding the possibility of global decline in transcript abundance. Consistent with the generally accepted view of aging, the differentially expressed genes included ones involved in mitochondrial function and oxidative stress. However, the expression of other genes involved in chromatin structure, DNA methylation, genome stability and RNA helicases was also altered, suggesting the existence of additional mechanisms for aging. Among the transcripts decreased with aging, we identified and characterized a group of new oocyte-specific genes, members of the human NACHT, leucine-rich repeat and PYD-containing (NALP) gene family. These results have implications for aging research as well as for clinical ooplasmic donation to rejuvenate aging oocytes.
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