Human embryogenesis still remains largely unexplored. This review helps identify some of our current gaps in knowledge pertaining to preimplantation development, which may have implications for understanding fundamental aspects of human development, assisted reproductive technologies, and stem cell biology.
Preimplantation development is arguably one of the most critical stages of embryogenesis. Beginning with the formation of the totipotent zygote post-fertilization, a series of cell divisions, and a complex coordination of physical cues, molecular signals and changes in gene expression lead to the formation of the blastocyst, a structure capable of implanting into the uterine wall. The blastocyst is composed of more specified cellular lineages, which will give rise to every tissue of the developing organism as well as the extra-embryonic lineages which support fetal growth. While the mouse has been used as a model to understand the events of preimplantation development for decades, in recent years, an expanding body of work has been conducted using the human embryo. These studies have identified some crucial species differences, particularly in the transcriptional and spatio-temporal expression of lineage markers and responses to cell signaling perturbations. This review compares recent findings on preimplantation development in mouse and human, with a focus on the specification of the first cellular lineages. Highlighting differences and noting mechanisms that require further examination in the human embryo is of critical importance for both the accurate translation of results from the mouse model and our overall understanding of mammalian development. We further highlight the latest advancement in reproductive research, the development of the 3D stem cell-based models known as ‘blastoids’. The knowledge discussed in this review has major clinical implications for assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization and for applications in stem cell biology.