Summary. A scoring scheme was devised to characterize visually the morphological differentiation of whole-mount, unfixed mouse blastocysts. Embryos were recovered from groups of intact mice (implanting embryos) and mice ovariectomized on Day 3 of pregnancy (implantation-delayed embryos) every 3 h from 18:00 h on Day 4 until 12:00 h on Day 5. Blastocyst differentiation was assessed according to the presence of a zona pellucida, the appearance of the outer margin of trophectoderm cells, the visibility of the blastocoele and the relative size of the inner cell mass. The results obtained indicate that, during this period, implanting and implantation-delayed mouse blastocysts lose the zona as well as exhibit rounded trophectoderm cells, an enlarged inner cell mass and an increasing opacity of the blastocoele. In contrast, the trophectoderm cells of implanting blastocysts only exhibit extensive cytoplasmic projections, probably due to remodelling of the intracellular cytoskeleton. Growth of the inner cell mass appeared to precede the other morphological changes in the majority of blastocysts, and thus might be a prerequisite for further differentiation. The rate of blastocyst differentiation and the survival of embryos were adversely affected by the condition of delayed implantation, induced by ovariectomy. This study suggests that the appearance of cytoplasmic projections from trophectoderm cells is central to the control of blastocyst implantation.
Keywords: blastocyst; morphology; trophectoderm; implantation; mouse