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LeAnn Blomberg, Kazuyoshi Hashizume and Christoph Viebahn

The molecular basis of ungulate and non-rodent conceptus elongation and gastrulation remains poorly understood; however, use of state-of-the-art genomic technologies is beginning to elucidate the mechanisms regulating these complicated processes. For instance, transcriptome analysis of elongating porcine concepti indicates that protein synthesis and trafficking, cell growth and proliferation, and cellular morphology are major regulated processes. Furthermore, potential autocrine roles of estrogen and interleukin-1-β in regulating porcine conceptus growth and remodeling and metabolism have become evident. The importance of estrogen in pig is emphasized by the altered expression of essential steroidogenic and trophoblast factors in lagging ovoid concepti. In ruminants, the characteristic mononucleate trophoblast cells differentiate into a second lineage important for implantation, the binucleate trophoblast, and transcriptome profiling of bovine concepti has revealed a gene cluster associated with rapid trophoblast proliferation and differentiation. Gene cluster analysis has also provided evidence of correlated spatiotemporal expression and emphasized the significance of the bovine trophoblast cell lineage and the regulatory mechanism of trophoblast function. As a part of the gastrulation process in the mammalian conceptus, specification of the germ layers and hence definitive body axes occur in advance of primitive streak formation. Processing of the transforming growth factor-β-signaling molecules nodal and BMP4 by specific proteases is emerging as a decisive step in the initial patterning of the pre-gastrulation embryo. The topography of expression of these and other secreted molecules with reference to embryonic and extraembryonic tissues determines their local interaction potential. Their ensuing signaling leads to the specification of axial epiblast and hypoblast compartments through cellular migration and differentiation and, in particular, the specification of the early germ layer tissues in the epiblast via gene expression characteristic of endoderm and mesoderm precursor cells.

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Bernd Fischer, Pascale Chavatte-Palmer, Christoph Viebahn, Anne Navarrete Santos and Veronique Duranthon

The renaissance of the laboratory rabbit as a reproductive model for human health is closely related to the growing evidence of periconceptional metabolic programming and its determining effects on offspring and adult health. Advantages of rabbit reproduction are the exact timing of fertilization and pregnancy stages, high cell numbers and yield in blastocysts, relatively late implantation at a time when gastrulation is already proceeding, detailed morphologic and molecular knowledge on gastrulation stages, and a hemochorial placenta structured similarly to the human placenta. To understand, for example, the mechanisms of periconceptional programming and its effects on metabolic health in adulthood, these advantages help to elucidate even subtle changes in metabolism and development during the pre- and peri-implantation period and during gastrulation in individual embryos. Gastrulation represents a central turning point in ontogenesis in which a limited number of cells program the development of the three germ layers and, hence, the embryo proper. Newly developed transgenic and molecular tools offer promising chances for further scientific progress to be attained with this reproductive model species.