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Heiner Niemann, X Cindy Tian, W Allan King and Rita S F Lee

The birth of ‘Dolly’, the first mammal cloned from an adult donor cell, has sparked a flurry of research activities to improve cloning technology and to understand the underlying mechanism of epigenetic reprogramming of the transferred somatic cell nucleus. Especially in ruminants, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is frequently associated with pathological changes in the foetal and placental phenotype and has significant consequences for development both before and after birth. The most critical factor is epigenetic reprogramming of the transferred somatic cell nucleus from its differentiated status into the totipotent state of the early embryo. This involves an erasure of the gene expression program of the respective donor cell and the establishment of the well-orchestrated sequence of expression of an estimated number of 10 000–12 000 genes regulating embryonic and foetal development. The following article reviews the present knowledge on the epigenetic reprogramming of the transferred somatic cell nucleus, with emphasis on DNA methylation, imprinting, X-chromosome inactivation and telomere length restoration in bovine development. Additionally, we briefly discuss other approaches towards epigenetic nuclear reprogramming, including the fusion of somatic and embryonic stem cells and the overexpression of genes crucial in the formation and maintenance of the pluripotent status. Improvements in our understanding of this dramatic epigenetic reprogramming event will be instrumental in realising the great potential of SCNT for basic biological research and for various agricultural and biomedical applications.

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Ramiro Alberio, Keith H Campbell and Andrew D Johnson

Recent scientific achievements in cell and developmental biology have provided unprecedented opportunities for advances in biomedical research. The demonstration that fully differentiated cells can reverse their gene expression profile to that of a pluripotent cell, and the successful derivation and culture of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have fuelled hopes for applications in regenerative medicine. These advances have been put to public scrutiny raising legal, moral and ethical issues which have resulted in different levels of acceptance. Ethical issues concerning the use of cloned human embryos for the derivation of stem cells have stimulated the search for alternative methods for reversing differentiated cells into multi/pluripotent cells. In this article, we will review the present state of these reprogramming technologies and discuss their relative success. We also overview reprogramming events after somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), as they may further instruct ex ovo strategies for cellular manipulation.

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Y Ono, N Shimozawa, K Muguruma, S Kimoto, K Hioki, M Tachibana, Y Shinkai, M Ito and T Kono

In mammals, cloned individuals can be produced from somatic cells. The combined use of gene targeting in embryonic stem cells and cloning contributes to the investigation of gene function in mammals. However, one of the major limitations to cloning is the low viability of cloned embryos, leading typically to high rates of pre- and postnatal death. The present study investigated whether cloning efficiency is influenced by the procedural differences involved in using transfected embryonic stem cells arrested at M phase for cloning by both single and serial transfer. In contrast to a previous study, in which fibroblasts were used, in the present study using embryonic stem cells there was no difference in the rate of production of cloned pups after the use of a single or serial nuclear transfer, although the proportion of blastocysts (70% versus 51%) was significantly higher (P < 0.001) after serial nuclear transfer. After embryo transfer of 445 blastocysts, 218 (49%) implanted and 27 (6% of blastocysts transferred) live pups were born. Of these 27 pups, 23 developed to adults of apparently normal fertility. Of these adults, 39% (n = 9) were derived from targeted embryonic stem cells, which is similar to the proportion of targeted embryonic stem cells in the population used for cloning. This study showed that cloning with embryonic stem cells is a viable procedure resulting in the production of transgenic cloned adults.

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Yue-Mao Zheng, Hui-Ying Zhao, Xiao-E Zhao, Fu-Sheng Quan, Song Hua, Xiao-Ying He, Jun Liu, Xiao-Ning He and Hui Lin

We assessed the developmental ability of embryos cloned from porcine neural stem (NS) cells, amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells, fetal fibroblast cells, adult fibroblast, and mammary gland epithelial cells. The five cell lines were transfected with enhanced green fluorescence protein gene respectively using lipofection. NS and AFS cells were induced to differentiate in vitro. Stem cells and their differentiated cells were harvested for analysis of the markers using RT-PCR. The five cell lines were used for nuclear transfer. The two-cell stage-cloned embryos derived from each cell line were transferred into the oviducts of surrogate mothers. The results showed that both NS and AFS cells expressed POU5F1, THY1 and SOX2, and they were both induced to differentiate into astrocyte (GFAP+), oligodendrocyte (GalC+), neuron (NF+, ENO2+, and MAP2+), adipocyte (LPL+ and PPARG-D+), osteoblast (osteonectin+ and osteocalcin+), myocyte (MYF6+ and MYOD+), and endothelium (PECAM1+, CD34+, CDH5+, and NOS3+) respectively. Seven cloned fetuses (28 days and 32 days) derived from stem cells were obtained. The in vitro developmental ability (morula–blastocyst rate was 28.26–30.07%) and in vivo developmental ability (pregnancy rate were 1.67–2.17%) of the embryos cloned from stem cells were higher (P<0.05) than that of the embryos cloned from somatic cells (morula–blastocyst rate was 16.27–19.28% and pregnancy rate was 0.00%), which suggests that the undifferentiated state of the donor cells increases cloning efficiency.

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R. Anderson, K. Schaible, J. Heasman and C. Wylie

During normal embryonic development, mammalian germ cells use both cell migration and aggregation to form the primitive sex cords. Germ cells must be able to interact with their environment and each other to accomplish this; however, the molecular basis of early germ cell adhesion is not well characterized. Differential adhesion is also thought to occur in the adult seminiferous tubules, since germ cells move from the periphery to the lumen as they differentiate. In a screen for additional adhesion molecules expressed by the germ line, expression of the homophilic adhesion molecule, Ep-CAM, was identified in embryonic, neonatal and adult germ cells using immunocytochemistry and flow cytometry with an Ep-CAM-specific monoclonal antibody. At embryonic stages, germ cells were found to express Ep-CAM during migration at embryonic day 10.5 and early gonad assembly at embryonic day 12.5. Expression of Ep-CAM was also found on neonatal male and female germ cells. In the adult testis, Ep-CAM was detected only on spermatogonia, and was absent from more differentiated cells. Finally, embryonic stem cells were shown to express this receptor. It is proposed that Ep-CAM plays a role in the development of the germ line and the behaviour of totipotent cells.

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Joëlle A Desmarais, Simon-Pierre Demers, Joao Suzuki Jr, Simon Laflamme, Patrick Vincent, Sheila Laverty and Lawrence C Smith

Although putative horse embryonic stem (ES)-like cell lines have been obtained recently from in vivo-derived embryos, it is currently not known whether it is possible to obtain ES cell (ESC) lines from somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and parthenogenetic (PA) embryos. Our aim is to establish culture conditions for the derivation of autologous ESC lines for cell therapy studies in an equine model. Our results indicate that both the use of early-stage blastocysts with a clearly visible inner cell mass (ICM) and the use of pronase to dissect the ICM allow the derivation of a higher proportion of primary ICM outgrowths from PA and SCNT embryos. Primary ICM outgrowths express the molecular markers of pluripotency POU class 5 homeobox 1 (POU5F1) and (sex determining region-Y)-box2 (SOX2), and in some cases, NANOG. Cells obtained after the passages of PA primary ICM outgrowths display alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity and POU5F1, SOX2, caudal-related homeobox-2 (CDX2) and eomesodermin (EOMES) expression, but may lose NANOG. Cystic embryoid body-like structures expressing POU5F1, CDX2 and EOMES were produced from these cells. Immunohistochemical analysis of equine embryos reveals the presence of POU5F1 in trophectoderm, primitive endoderm and ICM. These results suggest that cells obtained after passages of primary ICM outgrowths are positive for trophoblast stem cell markers while expressing POU5F1 and displaying AP activity. Therefore, these cells most likely represent trophoblast cells rather than true ESCs. This study represents an important first step towards the production of autologous equine ESCs for pre-clinical cell therapy studies on large animal models.

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C Denning and H Priddle

Until recently, precise modification of the animal genome by gene targeting was restricted to the mouse because germline competent embryonic stem cells are not available in any other mammalian species. Nuclear transfer (NT) technology now provides an alternative route for cell-based transgenesis in domestic species, offering new opportunities in genetic modification. Livestock that produce human therapeutic proteins in their milk, have organs suitable for xenotransplantation, or that could provide resistance to diseases such as spongiform encephalopathies have been produced by NT from engineered, cultured somatic cells. However, improvements in the efficiency of somatic cell gene targeting and a greater understanding of the reprogramming events that occur during NT are required for the routine application of what is currently an inefficient process. The ability to reprogramme and genetically manipulate cells will also be crucial for full exploitation of human embryonic stem (hES) cells, which offer unparalleled opportunities in human health and biotechnology. Particularly pertinent are directed differentiation of hES lines to specific cell lineages, production of cells that evade the patient's immune system and ensuring the safety of ensuing transplants. This review will discuss some of the successes, applications and challenges facing gene targeting in livestock and hES cells.

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Néstor Saiz and Berenika Plusa

During mammalian preimplantation development, the fertilised egg gives rise to a group of pluripotent embryonic cells, the epiblast, and to the extraembryonic lineages that support the development of the foetus during subsequent phases of development. This preimplantation period not only accommodates the first cell fate decisions in a mammal's life but also the transition from a totipotent cell, the zygote, capable of producing any cell type in the animal, to cells with a restricted developmental potential. The cellular and molecular mechanisms governing the balance between developmental potential and lineage specification have intrigued developmental biologists for decades. The preimplantation mouse embryo offers an invaluable system to study cell differentiation as well as the emergence and maintenance of pluripotency in the embryo. Here we review the most recent findings on the mechanisms controlling these early cell fate decisions. The model that emerges from the current evidence indicates that cell differentiation in the preimplantation embryo depends on cellular interaction and intercellular communication. This strategy underlies the plasticity of the early mouse embryo and ensures the correct specification of the first mammalian cell lineages.

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Bingteng Xie, Heng Zhang, Renyue Wei, Qiannan Li, Xiaogang Weng, Qingran Kong and Zhonghua Liu

Aberrant epigenetic reprogramming is the main obstacle to the development of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) embryos and the generation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which results in the low reprogramming efficiencies of SCNT and iPS. Histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), as a repressive epigenetic mark, plays important roles in mammalian development and iPS induction. However, the reprogramming of H3K27me3 in pig remains elusive. In this study, we showed that H3K27me3 levels in porcine early cloned embryos were higher than that in IVF embryos. Then GSK126 and GSK-J4, two small molecule inhibitors of H3K27me3 methylase (EZH2) and demethylases (UTX/JMJD3), were used to regulate the H3K27me3 level. The results showed that H3K27me3 level was reduced in cloned embryos after treatment of PEF with 0.75 μM GSK126 for 48 h, incubation of one-cell reconstructed oocytes with 0.1 μM GSK126 and injection of antibody for EZH2 into oocyte. Meanwhile, the development of the cloned embryos was significantly improved after these treatments. On the contrary, GSK-J4 treatment increased the H3K27me3 level in cloned embryos and decreased the cloned embryonic development. Furthermore, iPS efficiency was both increased after reducing the H3K27me3 level in donor cells and in early reprogramming phase. In summary, our results suggest that H3K27me3 acts as an epigenetic barrier in SCNT and iPS reprogramming, and reduction of H3K27me3 level in donor cells and in early reprogramming phase can enhance both porcine SCNT and iPS efficiency.

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Nuno Costa-Borges, Sheyla Gonzalez, Josep Santaló and Elena Ibáñez

Mouse recipient cytoplasts for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) are routinely prepared by mechanical enucleation (ME), an invasive procedure that requires expensive equipment and considerable micromanipulation skills. Alternatively, oocytes can be enucleated using chemically assisted (AE) or chemically induced (IE) enucleation methods that are technically simple. In this study, we compared the reprogramming potential and developmental capacity of cloned embryos generated by ME, AE, and IE procedures and treated with the histone deacetylase inhibitor valproic acid. A rapid and almost complete deacetylation of histone H3 lysine 14 in the somatic nucleus followed by an equally rapid and complete re-acetylation after activation was observed after the injection of a cumulus cell nucleus into ME and AE cytoplasts. In contrast, histone deacetylation occurred at a much lower level in IE cytoplasts. Despite these differences, the cloned embryos generated from the three types of cytoplasts developed into blastocysts of equivalent total and inner cell mass mean cell numbers, and the rates of blastocyst formation and embryonic stem cell derivation were similar among the three groups. The cloned embryos produced from ME and AE cytoplasts showed an equivalent rate of full-term development, but no offspring could be obtained from the IE group, suggesting a lower reprogramming capacity of IE cytoplasts. Our results demonstrate the usefulness of AE in mouse SCNT procedures, as an alternative to ME. AE can facilitate oocyte enucleation and avoid the need for expensive microscope optics, or for potentially damaging Hoechst staining and u.v. irradiation, normally required in ME procedures.