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Priscila Ramos-Ibeas, Ismael Lamas-Toranzo, Álvaro Martínez-Moro, Celia de Frutos, Alejandra C Quiroga, Esther Zurita, and Pablo Bermejo-Álvarez

Failures during conceptus elongation are a major cause of pregnancy losses in ungulates, exerting a relevant economic impact on farming. The developmental events occurring during this period are poorly understood, mainly because this process cannot be recapitulated in vitro. Previous studies have established an in vitro post-hatching development (PHD) system that supports bovine embryo development beyond the blastocyst stage, based on agarose gel tunnels and serum- and glucose-enriched medium. Unfortunately, under this system embryonic disc formation is not achieved and embryos show notorious signs of apoptosis and necrosis. The objective of this study has been to develop an in vitro system able to support embryonic disc formation. We first compared post-hatching development inside agarose tunnels or free-floating over an agarose-coated dish in serum- and glucose-enriched medium (PHD medium). Culture inside agarose tunnels shaped embryo morphology by physical constriction, but it restricted embryo growth and did not provide any significant advantage in terms of development of hypoblast and epiblast lineages. In contrast to PHD medium, a chemically defined and enriched medium (N2B27) supported complete hypoblast migration and epiblast survival in vitro, even in the absence of agarose coating. Cells expressing the pluripotency marker SOX2 were observed in ~56% of the embryos and ~25% developed embryonic disc-like structures formed by SOX2+ cells. In summary, here we provide a culture system that supports trophectoderm proliferation, hypoblast migration and epiblast survival after the blastocyst stage.