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Veronique Duranthon, Andrew J Watson, and Patrick Lonergan

Preimplantation development directs the formation of an implantation- or attachment-competent embryo so that metabolic interactions with the uterus can occur, pregnancy can be initiated, and fetal development can be sustained. The preimplantation embryo exhibits a form of autonomous development fueled by products provided by the oocyte and also from activation of the embryo's genome. Despite this autonomy, the preimplantation embryo is highly influenced by factors in the external environment and in extreme situations, such as those presented by embryo culture or nuclear transfer, the ability of the embryo to adapt to the changing environmental conditions or chromatin to become reprogrammed can exceed its own adaptive capacity, resulting in aberrant embryonic development. Nuclear transfer or embryo culture-induced influences not only affect implantation and establishment of pregnancy but also can extend to fetal and postnatal development and affect susceptibility to disease in later life. It is therefore critical to define the basic program controlling preimplantation development, and also to utilize nuclear transfer and embryo culture models so that we may design healthier environments for preimplantation embryos to thrive in and also minimize the potential for negative consequences during pregnancy and post-gestational life. In addition, it is necessary to couple gene expression analysis with the investigation of gene function so that effects on gene expression can be fully understood. The purpose of this short review is to highlight our knowledge of the mechanisms controlling preimplantation development and report how those mechanisms may be influenced by nuclear transfer and embryo culture.

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Thomas E Spencer, Niamh Forde, Piotr Dorniak, Thomas R Hansen, Jared J Romero, and Patrick Lonergan

In cattle, the blastocyst hatches from the zona pellucida on days 8–9 and then forms a conceptus that grows and elongates into an ovoid and then filamentous shape between days 9 and 16. The growing conceptus synthesizes and secretes prostaglandins (PGs) and interferon τ (IFNT). Our hypothesis was that the ovoid conceptus exerts a local effect on the endometrium prior to maternal recognition of pregnancy on day 16 in cattle. In study one, synchronized cyclic heifers received no blastocysts or 20 in vitro-produced blastocysts on day 7 and their uteri were collected on day 13. IFNT was not detected by RIA in the uterine flushing samples of pregnant heifers containing multiple ovoid conceptuses; however, total PG levels were higher in the uterine lumen of pregnant heifers than in that of cyclic heifers. Microarray analysis revealed that the expression of 44 genes was increased in the endometria of day 13 pregnant heifers when compared with that in the endometria of cyclic heifers, and many of these genes were classical Type I IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs). In studies two and three, the effects of infusing PGs at the levels produced by the elongating day 14 conceptus into the uterine lumen of cyclic ewes on ISG expression in the endometrium were determined. Results indicated that the infusion of PGs increased the abundance of several ISGs in the endometrium. These studies support the hypothesis that the day 13 conceptus secretes PGs that act locally in a paracrine manner to alter gene expression in the endometrium prior to pregnancy recognition in cattle.

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Veronica Maillo, Celia de Frutos, Peadar O’Gaora, Niamh Forde, Gregory W Burns, Thomas E Spencer, Alfonso Gutierrez-Adan, Patrick Lonergan, and Dimitrios Rizos

The aim of this study was to compare the transcriptome of the oviductal isthmus of pregnant heifers with that of cyclic heifers as well as to investigate spatial differences between the transcriptome of the isthmus and ampulla of the oviduct in pregnant heifers. After synchronizing crossbred beef heifers, those in standing oestrus (=Day 0) were randomly assigned to cyclic (non-bred, n=6) or pregnant (artificially inseminated, n=11) groups. They were slaughtered on Day 3 and both oviducts from each animal were isolated and cut in half to separate ampulla and isthmus. Each portion was flushed to confirm the presence of an oocyte/embryo and was then opened longitudinally and scraped to obtain epithelial cells which were snap-frozen. Oocytes and embryos were located in the isthmus of the oviduct ipsilateral to the corpus luteum. Microarray analysis of oviductal cells revealed that proximity to the corpus luteum did not affect the transcriptome of the isthmus, irrespective of pregnancy status. However, 2287 genes were differentially expressed (P<0.01) between the ampulla and isthmus of the oviduct ipsilateral to the corpus luteum in pregnant animals. Gene ontology revealed that the main biological processes overrepresented in the isthmus were synthesis of nitrogen, lipids, nucleotides, steroids and cholesterol as well as vesicle-mediated transport, cell cycle, apoptosis, endocytosis and exocytosis, whereas cell motion, motility and migration, DNA repair, calcium ion homeostasis, carbohydrate biosynthesis, and regulation of cilium movement and beat frequency were overrepresented in the ampulla. In conclusion, large differences in gene expression were observed between the isthmus and ampulla of pregnant animals at Day 3 after oestrus.

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Veronica Maillo, Maria Jesus Sánchez-Calabuig, Ricaurte Lopera-Vasquez, Meriem Hamdi, Alfonso Gutierrez-Adan, Patrick Lonergan, and Dimitrios Rizos

The oviduct is a complex and organized thin tubular structure connecting the ovary with the uterus. It is the site of final sperm capacitation, oocyte fertilization and, in most species, the first 3–4days of early embryo development. The oviductal epithelium is made up of ciliary and secretory cells responsible for the secretion of proteins and other factors which contribute to the formation of the oviductal fluid. Despite significant research, most of the pathways and oviductal factors implicated in the crosstalk between gametes/early embryo and the oviduct remain unknown. Therefore, studying the oviductal environment is crucial to improve our understanding of the regulatory mechanisms controlling fertilization and embryo development. In vitro systems are a valuable tool to study in vivo pathways and mechanisms, particularly those in the oviducts which in livestock species are challenging to access. In studies of gamete and embryo interaction with the reproductive tract, oviductal epithelial cells, oviductal fluid and microvesicles co-cultured with gametes/embryos represent the most appropriate in vitro models to mimic the physiological conditions in vivo.

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Osman V Patel, Anilkumar Bettegowda, James J Ireland, Paul M Coussens, Patrick Lonergan, and George W Smith

Poor oocyte competence contributes to infertility in humans and livestock species. The molecular characteristics of such oocytes are generally unknown. Objectives of the present studies were to identify differences in RNA transcript abundance in oocytes and early embryos associated with reduced oocyte competence and development to the blastocyst stage. Microarray experiments were conducted using RNA isolated from germinal vesicle stage oocytes collected from adult versus prepubertal animals (model of poor oocyte competence). A total of 193 genes displaying greater mRNA abundance in adult oocytes and 223 genes displaying greater mRNA abundance in prepubertal oocytes were detected. Subsequent gene ontology analysis of microarray data revealed significant overrepresentation of transcripts encoding for genes in hormone secretion classification within adult oocytes and such genes were selected for further analysis. Real-time PCR experiments revealed greater abundance of mRNA for βA and βB subunits of inhibin/activin and follistatin, but not the α subunit in germinal vesicle stage oocytes collected from adult versus prepubertal animals. Cumulus cell follistatin and βB subunit mRNA abundance were similar in samples collected from prepubertal versus adult animals. A positive association between time of first cleavage (oocyte competence) and follistatin mRNA abundance was noted. Follistatin, βB, and α subunit mRNAs were temporally regulated during early bovine embryogenesis and peaked at the 16-cell stage. Collectively, results demonstrate a positive association of follistatin mRNA abundance with oocyte competence in two distinct models and dynamic regulation of follistatin, βB, and α subunit mRNAs in early embryos after initiation of transcription from the embryonic genome.

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Noof Abdulrahman Alrabiah, Alexander C O Evans, Alan G Fahey, Niamh Cantwell, Patrick Lonergan, Janet McCormack, John A Browne, and Trudee Fair

Ovulation has been described as an inflammatory event, characterized by an influx of leukocytes into the ovulatory follicle and changes in the expression profile of immune factors in both the theca and granulosa tissue layers. Since information on this process is limited in cattle, our objective was to elucidate the contribution of the immune system to dominant follicle luteinization, ovulation and corpus luteum (CL) formation in cattle. Beef heifers (n = 50) were oestrous synchronized, slaughtered and ovarian follicular or luteal tissue collected during a 96 h window around ovulation. Follicular fluid cytokine concentration, temporal immune cell infiltration and inflammatory status were determined by Luminex multiplex analysis, immunohistochemistry and quantitative real-time PCR-analysis, respectively, in pre- and peri-ovulatory follicular tissues. The concentrations of IL10 and VEGF-A were highest in pre-ovulatory and the concentration of CXCL10 was highest in peri-ovulatory follicular fluid samples. The pre and peri-ovulatory follicles play host to a broad repertoire of immune cells, including T-cells, granulocytes and monocytes. Dendritic cells were the most abundant cells in ovulatory follicular and luteal-tissue at all times. The mRNA expression of candidate genes associated with inflammation was highest in pre- and peri-ovulatory tissue, whereas tissue growth and modelling factors were highest in the post-ovulatory follicular and early luteal tissue. In conclusion, ovulation in cattle is characterized by the presence of neutrophils, macrophages and dendritic cells in the ovulatory follicle, reflected in compartmentalized cytokine and growth factor expression. These findings indicate a tightly regulated sterile inflammatory response to the LH surge in the ovulatory follicle which is rapidly resolved in advance of CL formation.

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Meriem Hamdi, María J Sánchez-Calabuig, Beatriz Rodríguez-Alonso, Sandra Bagés Arnal, Kalliopi Roussi, Roger Sturmey, Alfonso Gutiérrez-Adán, Patrick Lonergan, and Dimitrios Rizos

During its journey through the oviduct, the bovine embryo may induce transcriptomic and metabolic responses, via direct or indirect contact, from bovine oviduct epithelial cells (BOECs). An in vitro model using polyester mesh was established, allowing the study of the local contact during 48 h between a BOEC monolayer and early embryos (2- or 8-cell stage) or their respective conditioned media (CM). The transcriptomic response of BOEC to early embryos was assessed by analyzing the transcript abundance of SMAD6, TDGF1, ROCK1, ROCK2, SOCS3, PRELP and AGR3 selected from previous in vivo studies and GPX4, NFE2L2, SCN9A, EPSTI1 and IGFBP3 selected from in vitro studies. Moreover, metabolic analyses were performed on the media obtained from the co-culture. Results revealed that presence of early embryos or their CM altered the BOEC expression of NFE2L2, GPX4, SMAD6, IGFBP3, ROCK2 and SCN9A. However, the response of BOEC to two-cell embryos or their CM was different from that observed to eight-cell embryos or their CM. Analysis of energy substrates and amino acids revealed that BOEC metabolism was not affected by the presence of early embryos or by their CM. Interestingly, embryo metabolism before embryo genome activation (EGA) seems to be independent of exogenous sources of energy. In conclusion, this study confirms that early embryos affect BOEC transcriptome and BOEC response was embryo stage specific. Moreover, embryo affects BOEC via a direct contact or via its secretions. However transcriptomic response of BOEC to the embryo did not manifest as an observable metabolic response.