The present study examined the effect of different concentrations of cysteine in the presence of a thiol compound, β-mercaptoethanol (BME), during in vitro maturation (IVM) of pig oocytes on cumulus expansion, nuclear maturation, intracellular glutathione (GSH) level and subsequent embryonic development after in vitro fertilisation (IVF). In experiment 1, oocytes were matured in NCSU 23 medium containing 10% porcine follicular fluid, 25 μM BME, 0.5 μg/ml LH, 0.5 μg/ml FSH and 0, 0.1, 0.2 or 0.4 mg/ml cysteine for 20–22 h and then without hormonal supplements for an additional 20–22 h. After culture, cumulus cells were removed and a proportion of oocytes fixed to examine the rate of nuclear maturation. The remaining oocytes were co-incubated with spermatozoa for 5–6 h and putative zygotes were transferred to NCSU 23 medium containing 0.4% bovine serum albumin for 144 h. A proportion of putative zygotes were fixed 12 h after insemination to examine fertilisation parameters. In experiment 2, oocytes were matured as in experiment 1 and the GSH content was measured by a DTNB-GSSG reductase recycling assay. No mean differences among treatments were observed in nuclear maturation (78–89%). The mean differences in penetration rate (69–77%), polyspermy rate (31–40%), male pronuclear formation rate (93–96%) or mean number of sperm per oocyte (1.5-1.8) were not affected by the presence or absence of cysteine during oocyte maturation. Also no difference was observed in cleavage rates 48 h after insemination. However, compared with no addition (19%), the presence of 0.1-0.4 mg/ml cysteine during IVM increased (p < 0.001) the proportion of blastocysts (32–39%) at 144 h. In comparison with controls (5.6 pmol/oocyte), the GSH content of oocytes matured in the presence of cysteine was significantly (p < 0.001) higher (13–15 pmol/oocyte) with no mean differences among different cysteine concentrations. The results indicate that in the presence of a thiol compound, supplementation of IVM medium with cysteine can increase the GSH level and improve the developmental competence of pig oocytes following fertilisation. Further, no effect on either GSH level or embryo development was observed by increasing the levels of cysteine supplementation from 0.1 to 0.4 mg/ml.