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Michel Guillomot, Annick Turbe, Isabelle Hue and Jean-Paul Renard

The high rates of embryonic mortalities which follow in vitro production of ruminant embryos have emphasized the need for increased knowledge of early development. It is likely that early failures in embryonic development and placenta formation involve abnormal differentiation of mesoderm. The aim of this study was to investigate the pattern of expression of two T-box genes known to control the gastrulation process, Brachyury and Eomesodermin, by whole-mount in situ hybridization. To allow a more precise comparison of both expression patterns between embryos, we describe a new staging of pre-implanted ovine embryos by gross morphology and histology from pre-gastrulation stages to the beginning of neurulation. In pre-streak embryos primitive mesoderm cells delaminated in between the primitive endoderm and the epiblast. At that stage, no expression of Brachyury or Eomesodermin could be detected in the embryos. Early expression of both T-genes was observed by the early-streak stages in epiblast cells located close to the presumptive posterior pole of the embryos. Later on, during gastrulation both genes followed a pattern of expression similar to the ones described in other mammals. These observations suggest that other genes, which remain to be identified, are responsible for extra-embryonic mesoderm differentiation in ruminant embryos.

Free access

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.

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Wei Cui, Agnes Cheong, Yongsheng Wang, Yuran Tsuchida, Yong Liu, Kimberly D Tremblay and Jesse Mager

Microspherule protein 1 (MCRS1, also known as MSP58) is an evolutionarily conserved protein that has been implicated in various biological processes. Although a variety of functions have been attributed to MCRS1 in vitro, mammalian MCRS1 has not been studied in vivo. Here we report that MCRS1 is essential during early murine development. Mcrs1 mutant embryos exhibit normal morphology at the blastocyst stage but cannot be recovered at gastrulation, suggesting an implantation failure. Outgrowth (OG) assays reveal that mutant blastocysts do not form a typical inner cell mass (ICM) colony, the source of embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Surprisingly, cell death and histone H4 acetylation analysis reveal that apoptosis and global H4 acetylation are normal in mutant blastocysts. However, analysis of lineage specification reveals that while the trophoblast and primitive endoderm are properly specified, the epiblast lineage is compromised and exhibits a severe reduction in cell number. In summary, our study demonstrates the indispensable role of MCRS1 in epiblast development during early mammalian embryogenesis.

Free access

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.

Free access

Séverine A Degrelle, Kim-Anh Lê Cao, Yvan Heyman, Robin E Everts, Evelyne Campion, Christophe Richard, Céline Ducroix-Crépy, X Cindy Tian, Harris A Lewin, Jean-Paul Renard, Christèle Robert-Granié and Isabelle Hue

Axis specification in mouse is determined by a sequence of reciprocal interactions between embryonic and extra-embryonic tissues so that a few extra-embryonic genes appear as ‘patterning’ the embryo. Considering these interactions as essential, but lacking in most mammals the genetically driven approaches used in mouse and the corresponding patterning mutants, we examined whether a molecular signature originating from extra-embryonic tissues could relate to the developmental stage of the embryo proper and predict it. To this end, we have profiled bovine extra-embryonic tissues at peri-implantation stages, when gastrulation and early neurulation occur, and analysed the subsequent expression profiles through the use of predictive methods as previously reported for tumour classification. A set of six genes (CALM1, CPA3, CITED1, DLD, HNRNPDL, and TGFB3), half of which had not been previously associated with any extra-embryonic feature, appeared significantly discriminative and mainly dependent on embryonic tissues for its faithful expression. The predictive value of this set of genes for gastrulation and early neurulation stages, as assessed on naive samples, was remarkably high (93%). In silico connected to the bovine orthologues of the mouse patterning genes, this gene set is proposed as a new trait for embryo staging. As such, this will allow saving the bovine embryo proper for molecular or cellular studies. To us, it offers as well new perspectives for developmental phenotyping and modelling of embryonic/extra-embryonic co-differentiation.

Free access

Rebecca L Jones, Tu’uhevaha J Kaitu’u-Lino, Guiying Nie, L Gabriel Sanchez-Partida, Jock K Findlay and Lois A Salamonsen

Maternal–fetal communications are critical for the establishment of pregnancy. Embryonic growth and differentiation factors produced by the oviduct and uterus play essential roles during the pre- and early post-implantation phases. Although several studies indicate roles for activin in embryonic development, gene-knockout studies have failed to identify a critical role in mammalian embryogenesis. We hypothesized that activin is produced by maternal tissues during the establishment of pregnancy, and thus maternally derived activin could compensate for the absence of embryonic activin in null homozygotes during critical developmental stages. We investigated the expression of inhibin α, activin βA, and βB subunits in the mouse oviduct and uterus during the estrous cycle and early pregnancy, and in the early conceptus. Inhibin α subunit was weakly expressed, while activin βA and βB subunits were strongly expressed in oviduct and uterus at estrous, and dramatically upregulated in the uterus on each day of pregnancy between days 3.5 and 8.5 post coitum. Prior to implantation, activin βA and βB subunits were immunolocalized to oviductal and uterine epithelial cells; following implantation they were expressed in the stroma, in a wave preceding decidualization. Later in pregnancy, activin βA and βB subunits were present in decidua basalis, trophoblast giant cells, and labyrinth zone of the developing placenta. Expression of activin βA subunit was also detected in blastocysts and early post-implantation embryos. These data are consistent with a role for maternally derived activins in the support of the pre-implantation embryo, and during gastrulation and embryogenesis.

Free access

Yue Li, Ru Zheng, Rui Wang, Xiaoyin Lu, Cheng Zhu, Hai-Yan Lin, Hongmei Wang, Xiaoguang Yu and Jiejun Fu

The placenta has numerous functions, such as transporting oxygen and nutrients and building the immune tolerance of the fetus. Cell fusion is an essential process for placental development and maturation. In human placental development, mononucleated cytotrophoblast (CTB) cells can fuse to form a multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast (STB), which is the outermost layer of the placenta. Nephrin is a transmembrane protein that belongs to the Ig superfamily. Previous studies have shown that nephrin contributes to the fusion of myoblasts into myotubes in zebrafish and mice, presenting a functional conservation with its Drosophila ortholog sticks and stones. However, whether nephrin is involved in trophoblast syncytialization remains unclear. In this study, we report that nephrin was localized predominantly in the CTB cells and STB of human placenta villi from first trimester to term pregnancy. Using a spontaneous fusion model of primary CTB cells, the expression of nephrin was found to be increased during trophoblast cell fusion. Moreover, the spontaneous syncytialization and the expression of syncytin 2, connexin 43, and human chorionic gonadotropin beta were significantly inhibited by nephrin-specific siRNAs. The above results demonstrate that nephrin plays an important role in trophoblast syncytialization.

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Wei Cui, Chelsea Marcho, Yongsheng Wang, Rinat Degani, Morgane Golan, Kimberly D Tremblay, Jaime A Rivera-Pérez and Jesse Mager

Mediator is an evolutionarily conserved multi-subunit complex, bridging transcriptional activators and repressors to the general RNA polymerase II (Pol II) initiation machinery. Though the Mediator complex is crucial for the transcription of almost all Pol II promoters in eukaryotic organisms, the phenotypes of individual Mediator subunit mutants are each distinct. Here, we report for the first time, the essential role of subunit MED20 in early mammalian embryo development. Although Med20 mutant mouse embryos exhibit normal morphology at E3.5 blastocyst stage, they cannot be recovered at early post-gastrulation stages. Outgrowth assays show that mutant blastocysts cannot hatch from the zona pellucida, indicating impaired blastocyst function. Assessments of cell death and cell lineage specification reveal that apoptosis, inner cell mass, trophectoderm and primitive endoderm markers are normal in mutant blastocysts. However, the epiblast marker NANOG is ectopically expressed in the trophectoderm of Med20 mutants, indicative of defects in trophoblast specification. These results suggest that MED20 specifically, and the Mediator complex in general, are essential for the earliest steps of mammalian development and cell lineage specification.

Free access

M. L. Norris

Summary. The efficacy of several exteroceptive factors including exposure to a 'strange' male, were tested to induce pregnancy failure in newly mated Mongolian gerbils. Only physical separation of monogamous pairs consistently induced pregnancy failure. This phenomenon was restricted to the immediate period after mating and is believed to be due to disruption of pair bonding, with associated luteal and implantation failure. Concurrent lactation annulled this effect.

Free access

S. Long, S. K. Dey and D. C. Johnson

Summary. An intravenous injection of 2-fluoro-oestradiol simultaneously with an implantation-inducing dose of oestradiol reduced the number of implantation sites in delayed implanting hypophysectomized rats maintained with progesterone. Administration of 2-fluoro-oestradiol 1 h before or after oestradiol had no effect. Furthermore, injection of as much as 500 ng 2-fluoro-oestradiol 48 h before administration of oestradiol failed to have any effect upon implantation, i.e. failure to block implantation was correlated with failure to induce the uterine refractory state. These results suggest that conversion of primary oestrogens to catechol oestrogens could be important for implantation as well as for the induction of the oestrogen refractory state in the uterus.