• mouse;
  • preantral follicle;
  • PEG-based hydrogel;
  • three dimensional culture;
  • swelling ratio


This study was undertaken to examine how the softness of poly(ethylene) glycol (PEG)-based hydrogels, creating a three-dimensional (3D) microenvironment, influences the in vitro growth of mouse ovarian follicles. Early secondary, preantral follicles of 2 week-old mice were cultured in a crosslinked four-arm PEG hydrogel. The hydrogel swelling ratio, which relates to softness, was modified within the range 25.7–15.5 by increasing the reactive PEG concentration in the precursor solution from 5% to 15% w/v, but it did not influence follicular growth to form the pseudoantrum (60–80%; p = 0.76). Significant (p < 0.04) model effects, however, were detected in the maturation and developmental competence of the follicle-derived oocytes. A swelling ratio of > 21.4 yielded better oocyte maturation than other levels, while the highest competence to develop pronuclear and blastocyst formation was detected at 20.6. In conclusion, gel softness, as reflected in swelling ratio, was one of the essential factors for supporting folliculogenesis in vivo within a hydrogel-based, 3D microenvironment. © 2014 The Authors. Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.