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Fabiana Cillo, Tiziana A L Brevini, Stefania Antonini, Alessio Paffoni, Guido Ragni, and Fulvio Gandolfi

At present, oocyte selection is mainly based upon morphological criteria but it is generally acknowledged that its reliability requires further improvement. The aim of this study was to determine whether transcript levels in cumulus cells can provide a useful marker of oocyte developmental competence in vitro. A retrospective study was performed on cumulus cells isolated from 90 oocytes retrieved from 45 patients. Upon fertilization, 35 oocytes originated good-quality embryos and 36 developed into poor-quality embryos, whereas 19 failed to be fertilized. Semi-quantitative measurement of hyaluronic acid synthase 2 (HAS2), gremlin1 (GREM1), and pentraxin 3 (PTX3) mRNAs was performed and data for all genes were obtained from all the samples. Cumulus cells isolated from oocytes that originated high-quality embryos on day 3 of culture had HAS2 and GREM1 transcript levels higher than those detected in cells from oocytes that did not fertilize or developed into poor-quality embryos. No differences were observed in PTX3 levels. Results indicate that the measurement of HAS2 and GREM1 levels in cumulus cells would reliably complement the morphological evaluation providing a useful tool for selecting oocytes with greater chances to be fertilized and develop in vitro.

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Laura F Pisani, Stefania Antonini, Paola Pocar, Stefania Ferrari, Tiziana A L Brevini, Stewart M Rhind, and Fulvio Gandolfi

The present study was designed to investigate the relationship between pre-mating nutrition and the relative amounts of a panel of developmentally relevant genes in ovine oocytes and granulosa cells. Cast age ewes were fed a ration providing 0.5× (0.5 M) or 1.5× (1.5 M) live weight maintenance requirements for 2 weeks before slaughter. The ewes were synchronized and superovulated with FSH and pregnant mares serum gonadotropin. At slaughter, oocytes and granulosa cells were aspirated from follicles >2 mm in diameter and the relative abundance of 8 and 17 transcripts in oocytes and granulosa cells respectively were analyzed by semi-quantitative RT-PCR. In the oocytes, no differences between groups were observed for five transcripts (GDF9, BMP15, c-kit, glucose transporter 1 (SLC2A1), and hexokinase 1), but a lower amount of glucose transporter 3 (SLC2A3), sodium/glucose cotransporter 1 (SLC5A1), and Na+/K+ ATPase mRNAs was detected in the 0.5 M group. Increased expression of PTGS2, HAS2, and the leptin receptor long form was observed in granulosa cells from the 0.5 M group. No differences between groups were observed for the other transcripts (early growth response factor-1, estrogen receptor-α, LH and FSH receptors, gremlin 1, pentraxin 3, KIT ligand, glucose transporters 1, 3, and 8, IGF1, IGF1 receptor, leptin receptor, and tumor necrosis factor-stimulated gene 6). Expression of leptin and sodium/glucose cotransporter 1 was not detected in both groups. The present data indicate that pre-mating nutrition is associated with alteration in the mRNA content in oocytes and surrounding follicle cells in ewes, which may account for the reduced reproductive performance typical of ewes that are fed a restricted ration for a short period of time before mating.

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Irina Lagutina, Helena Fulka, Tiziana A L Brevini, Stefania Antonini, Dario Brunetti, Silvia Colleoni, Fulvio Gandolfi, Giovanna Lazzari, Josef Fulka Jr, and Cesare Galli

The best results of inter-species somatic cell nuclear transfer (iSCNT) in mammals were obtained using closely related species that can hybridise naturally. However, in the last years, many reports describing blastocyst development following iSCNT between species with distant taxonomical relations (inter-classes, inter-order and inter-family) have been published. This indicates that embryonic genome activation (EGA) in xeno-cytoplasm is possible, albeit very rarely. Using a bovine–pig (inter-family) iSCNT model, we studied the basic characteristics of EGA: expression and activity of RNA polymerase II (RNA Pol II), formation of nucleoli (as an indicator of RNA polymerase I (RNA Pol I) activity), expression of the key pluripotency gene NANOG and alteration of mitochondrial mass. In control embryos (obtained by IVF or iSCNT), EGA was characterised by RNA Pol II accumulation and massive production of poly-adenylated transcripts (detected with oligo dT probes) in blastomere nuclei, and formation of nucleoli as a result of RNA Pol I activity. Conversely, iSCNT embryos were characterised by the absence of accumulation and low activity of RNA Pol II and inability to form active mature nucleoli. Moreover, in iSCNT embryos, NANOG was not expressed, and mitochondria mass was significantly lower than in intra-species embryos. Finally, the complete developmental block at the 16–25-cell stage for pig–bovine iSCNT embryos and at the four-cell stage for bovine–pig iSCNT embryos strongly suggests that EGA is not taking place in iSCNT embryos. Thus, our experiments clearly demonstrate poor nucleus–cytoplasm compatibility between these animal species.