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Hiroaki Funahashi and Raquel Romar

To reduce the incidence of polyspermic penetration, the effects of transient exposure of washed fresh spermatozoa to caffeine in a brief co-culture in vitro fertilization (IVF) system were examined. A pretreatment effect of spermatozoa with adenosine was also examined. When 5 mmol caffeine/l was supplemented during periods of co-culture and additional culture periods until 8 h after insemination, a shortened co-incubation period of gametes (30 denuded oocytes in 100 μl modified Medium 199-suspended spermatozoa at 2.5 ×105 sperm/ml) from 30 to 5 min increased the monospermy rate in total mature oocytes examined. The number of spermatozoa binding to the zona surface was significantly lower in oocytes co-cultured for 5 min (33.1 ± 2.2) than 8 h (207.6 ± 13.7). A limited exposure of gametes to 5 mmol caffeine/l only during a transient co-culture period for 5 or 30 min significantly reduced the mean number of sperm cells that penetrated into the oocyte. Transient exposure of spermatozoa to caffeine for only 5 min increased the percentage of capacitated cells but not acrosome-reacted cells, as compared with a whole exposure treatment. Furthermore, preincubation of spermatozoa with 10 μmol adenosine/l for 90 min increased both the incidence of capacitated cells and the monospermy rate and consequently decreased the number of sperm cells that penetrated into the oocyte. In conclusion, these results have demonstrated that a new transient co-incubation IVF system, in which denuded oocytes are co-cultured with spermatozoa in medium containing caffeine for 5 to 30 min and then continuing the culture in caffeine-free medium, will reduce the incidence of polyspermic penetration. Preincubation of fresh spermatozoa with adenosine before the transient co-incubation IVF can also improve the monospermy rate. Furthermore, asynchrony in the morphology of sperm nuclei in polyspermic oocytes was reduced by the pretreatment with adenosine and a brief exposure to caffeine.

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Rhiannon E Lloyd, Raquel Romar, Carmen Matás, Alfonso Gutiérrez-Adán, William V Holt, and Pilar Coy

In mammals, fertilization and early pre-implantation development occur in the oviduct. Previous results obtained in our laboratory have identified specific molecules in the oviduct that affect porcine sperm–egg interactions. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the contact between oocytes and oviductal fluid also affect embryo development, quality, and gene expression. In vitro matured porcine oocytes were exposed to bovine oviductal fluid (bOF) for 30 min prior to fertilization. Cleavage and blastocyst development rates were significantly higher from bOF-treated oocytes than from untreated oocytes. Blastocysts obtained from bOF-treated oocytes had significantly greater total cell numbers than those obtained from untreated oocytes. Using real-time PCR, grade 1 (very good morphological quality) and grade 2 (good morphological quality) blastocysts were analyzed for gene transcripts related to apoptosis (BAX, BCL2L1), mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) transcription/replication (POLG, POLG2, and TFAM), blastomere connection and morula compaction (GJA1), and blastocyst formation and pluripotency (POU5F1). We found that the entire set of genes analyzed was differentially expressed between grade 1 and 2 blastocysts. Furthermore, bOF treatment reduced the ratio of BAX to BCL2L1 transcripts and enhanced the abundance of TFAM transcripts in grade 2 blastocysts. Not only do these findings demonstrate that factors within the bOF act on porcine oocytes both quickly and positively, but they also suggest that such factors could promote embryo development and quality by protecting them against adverse impacts on mtDNA transcription/replication and apoptosis induced by the culture environment.

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Luis César Carrasco, Raquel Romar, Manuel Avilés, Joaquín Gadea, and Pilar Coy

Sperm–oocyte binding and gamete–oviductal epithelium interactions are carbohydrate-mediated events occurring in the oviductal fluid (OF). Thus, knowledge about the activities of glycosidases (enzymes catalyzing hydrolytic cleavage of terminal sugar residues) in this milieu would help us understand the molecular mechanisms involved in these events. This work was carried out to investigate the glycosidase activity, protein content, and volume of OF collected from gilts and sows. Oviducts were classified into four phases of the estrous cycle (early follicular, late follicular, early luteal, and late luteal) based on the appearance of the ovaries. OF was aspirated, centrifuged, measured for volume, and frozen until assay. Substrates conjugated to 4-methylumbelliferyl were used to screen the activities of seven different glycosidases at physiological pH (7.2). α-l-Fucosidase and β-N-acetyl-glucosaminidase activities increased at the late follicular phase to decrease after ovulation. β-d-Galactosidase, α-d-mannosidase, and β-N-acetyl-galactosaminidase showed higher activities at the early follicular phase, which decreased after ovulation. N-Acetyl-neuraminidase and α-d-galactosidase did not show activity at any phase of estrous cycle neither in sows nor in gilts at pH 7.2, although it did at acidic pH (4.4) in the follicular and luteal phase samples. Total protein also changed during the cycle showing the maximum secretion at the late follicular phase (2118.6±200.7 μg/oviduct). The highest volumes of OF were collected from the oviducts at the late follicular phase (50.7±1.3 μl/oviduct). These results indicate that OF from sows and gilts shows glycosidase activity varying throughout the estrous cycle suggesting a role of these enzymes in carbohydrate-mediated events.

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Pilar Coy, Luis Grullon, Sebastian Canovas, Raquel Romar, Carmen Matas, and Manuel Aviles

One of the proposed mechanisms of polyspermy block is an increased resistance of the zona pellucida (ZP) to proteolytic digestion (ZP hardening) as a consequence of cortical granule exocytosis that occurs soon after fertilization. However, evidence is available that the zonae pellucidae of freshly ovulated pig and cow oocytes harden considerably before fertilization. It was thought that such pre-fertilization ZP hardening could be involved in the control of polyspermy, and its lack in the oocytes matured in vitro could be one of the reasons for the extremely high incidence of polyspermy in pig in vitro fertilization (IVF). To test this hypothesis, two different types of cross-linking reagents were employed and their effects on ZP hardening and IVF efficiency were examined. The sulfhydryl-reactive cross-linkers produced a slight hardening of ZP (P<0.001) of treated oocytes compared with control oocytes, and totally inhibited sperm penetration into pig oocytes after IVF. In the cow, sperm penetration into eggs was reduced to 10%. It is proposed that formation of disulfide bonds in ZP or blocking of SH groups in the oocyte plasma membrane proteins prevents sperm penetration. An amine-reactive cross-linker was then assayed and produced strong ZP hardening, increasing the incidence of monospermy in both pig and cow oocytes after fertilization. When the cross-linker concentration was optimized, a 45% improvement for pig IVF efficiency was reached. It is proposed that the observed physiological ZP hardening is a mechanism to control polyspermy, differentially affecting various mammalian species and can be imitated by the use of amine-reactive cross-linkers during IVF.

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Pilar Coy, Raquel Romar, Salvador Ruiz, Sebastián Cánovas, Joaquín Gadea, Francisco García Vázquez, and Carmen Matás

The objectives of this study were to evaluate: (1) the nuclear maturation, (2) the intracellular glutathione (GSH) content, (3) the normality of fertilization and (4) full development after transplantation of embryos derived from porcine oocytes pre-cultured with 50 μmol/l roscovitine (an inhibitor of p34cdc2/cyclin B kinase) for 22 h. After treatment with roscovitine, the nuclear configuration of oocytes (Hoechst staining) was comparable with those examined just after collection: the majority of oocytes were arrested at the germinal vesicle (GV) 1 stage (63.2%). Roscovitine-treated oocytes progressed through meiosis to the metaphase II stage in a conventional step-wise in vitro maturation (IVM) program for 44 h in a proportion similar to control ones (>85.0%). When roscovitine-treated oocytes and non-treated oocytes were matured for 44 h and then co-cultured with fresh spermatozoa for 18 h, no differences were observed in oocyte penetrability, proportion of monospermic penetration and male pronuclear formation (>87%). Roscovitine increased the GSH synthesis in oocytes at 22 h, whereas, after 44 h, roscovitine-treated oocytes had similar amounts of GSH to non-treated oocytes. Finally, surgical transfer of zygotes at 22–24 h post-insemination, derived from roscovitine-treated oocytes, resulted in one pregnancy with 12 piglets born; control non-treated zygotes resulted in one pregnancy and 10 piglets born. The full-term developmental ability of mammalian oocytes pre-cultured with roscovitine prior to IVM is thereby demonstrated. This validation is important before the introduction of roscovitine into routine procedures.

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Julieta Gabriela Hamze, María Jiménez-Movilla, and Raquel Romar

The role of specific zona pellucida (ZP) glycoproteins in gamete interaction has not yet been elucidated in many species. A recently developed 3D model based on magnetic sepharose beads (B) conjugated to recombinant ZP glycoproteins (BZP) and cumulus cells (CBZP) allows the study of isolated ZP proteins in gamete recognition studies. The objective of this work was to study the role of porcine ZP2, ZP3 and ZP4 proteins in sperm binding, cumulus cell adhesion and acrosome reaction triggering. ZP protein-bound beads were incubated with fresh ejaculated boar spermatozoa and isolated cumulus cells for 24 h. The number of sperm bound to the beads, the acrosomal shrouds (presence of acrosomal content) on the bead’s surface, and the acrosome integrity (by means of PNA-FITC lectin) in bound and unbound sperm were studied. Finally, in vitro matured porcine oocytes mixed with BZP2 were inseminated in vitro using fresh sperm and fertilisation results evaluated. Over 60% of beads had at least one sperm bound after 2 h of coincubation. ZP2-beads (BZP2) and cumulus-ZP2-bead complexes (CBZP2) reached the highest number of sperm per bead, whereas BZP3 and BZP4 models showed the highest number of unbound reacted sperm cells and acrosomal shrouds. Fertilisation efficiency and monospermy rate increased when oocytes were fertilised in the presence of BZP2. We, therefore, conclude that in pigs, it is mainly ZP2 that is involved in sperm-ZP binding whereas ZP3 and ZP4 induce acrosome reaction. Using magnetic sepharose ZP2-bound beads might be a valuable tool to improve the fertilisation rate in pigs.

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Sebastian Canovas, Raquel Romar, Luis Alberto Grullon, Manuel Aviles, and Pilar Coy

Zona pellucida (ZP) hardening (resistance to proteolysis) has been classically identified as a post-fertilization event that contributes to the block to polyspermy. Di-(N-succinimidyl)-3,3′-dithiodipropionate (DSP), a permeable amine-reactive cross-linker, was recently shown to induce pre-fertilization ZP hardening and to improve porcine IVF productivity. The objectives of this study were to investigate i) how DSP affects pre-fertilization ZP hardening and IVF in cattle, ii) if a non-permeable amine-reactive cross-linker such as bis(sulfosuccinimidyl) suberate (BS3) affects ZP hardening and IVF in cattle and pigs, and iii) whether DSP or BS3, if improvement in IVF productivity was demonstrated in either species, affects in vitro embryo development. Bovine and porcine in vitro matured oocytes were incubated with the cross-linkers (0.06, 0.3, and 0.6 mg/ml) for 30 min. Then they were subjected to ZP digestion or IVF. In cattle, both DSP and BS3 induced ZP hardening and decreased the penetration rate, although monospermy, penetration, or male pronuclear formation was not affected. In pigs, BS3 treatment induced ZP hardening, decreased penetration and male pronuclear formation, and increased monospermy. IVF productivity only improved when porcine oocytes were exposed to DSP. When porcine zygotes derived from this treatment were further cultured in vitro, the cleavage and blastocyst formation rates increased. These results support the idea that mechanisms involved in the prevention of polyspermic fertilization in cattle and pigs have different efficiencies, and ZP hardening induced by DSP cross-linker may be useful for improving porcine embryo production.

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María Dolores Saavedra, Irene Mondéjar, Pilar Coy, Miguel Betancourt, Humberto González-Márquez, María Jiménez-Movilla, Manuel Avilés, and Raquel Romar

This study was designed to determine whether calreticulin (CRT), a chaperone protein, is present in in vitro-matured (IVM) pig oocytes and to study its potential role in the block to polyspermy. Western blot analysis, using an anti-CRT antibody, of oocyte lysate showed an immunoreactive band of ∼60 kDa. Simultaneous labeling of IVM oocytes with anti-CRT antibody and peanut agglutinin lectin (PNA lectin, a porcine cortical granules (CG)-specific binding lectin) revealed localization of CRT in the subplasmalemmal region with a 27.7% colocalization with PNA staining. After IVF, PNA labeling was not observed and anti-CRT labeling decreased significantly in zygotes and disappeared in two-cell embryos. Western blot analysis of oocyte exudate obtained from zona pellucida (ZP)-free oocytes activated with calcium ionophore confirmed the presence of a band that reacted with an anti-CRT antibody. Anti-CRT antibody and PNA labeling were not observed in activated oocytes despite being detectable in non-activated oocytes. The presence of CRT in vesicles located under the oolemma was demonstrated using immunogold cytochemistry at the ultrastructural level. To study the role of CRT in fertilization, ZP-enclosed and ZP-free oocytes were incubated with exogenous CRT and then inseminated. Whereas ZP-free oocytes showed fewer penetrating sperm and lower polyspermy rates than untreated oocytes, the opposite effect was observed in ZP-enclosed oocytes. In conclusion, CRT is confined to subplasmalemmal vesicles partially overlapping with CG contents. Its exocytosis after the oocyte activation seems to participate in the membrane block to polyspermy in pigs but is not involved in the ZP block.

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Pilar Coy, Raquel Romar, Rebecca R Payton, Lisa McCann, Arnold M Saxton, and J Lannett Edwards

The overall objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of the S-enantiomer of roscovitine (inhibitor of p34cdc2/cyclin B kinase) to maintain bovine cumulus–oocyte complexes at the germinal vesicle (GV) stage for extended times after removal from antral follicles without compromising subsequent maturation, fertilization and embryo development. Oocytes were cultured in 0, 12.5, 25 or 50 μmol/l S-roscovitine for 24 h. Hoechst staining showed that 50 μmol/l S-roscovitine maintained >90% of oocytes at the GV stage and inhibited gonadotropin-induced cumulus expansion. Fewer oocytes underwent nuclear maturation after in vitro maturation (Hoechst staining) when cultured in 50 μmol/l S-roscovitine for 66 versus 21 or 42 h. Zona pellucida (ZP) hardening (pronase resistance), cortical granule types (lens culinaris agglutinin–fluorescein isothiocyanate), nuclear maturation and fertilization with frozen-thawed spermatozoa (Hoechst staining) were assessed after culture of oocytes in 50 μmol/l S-roscovitine for 0, 24 or 48 h. Neither ZP hardening, nor nuclear maturation nor fertilization were altered by roscovitine culture for 48 h. A higher proportion of oocytes had a type III cortical granule pattern (premature translocation to the oolemma) after roscovitine culture for 48 h. However, embryo development was not compromised as cleavage, development to 8–16 cell and blastocyst stages were at least comparable in control and roscovitine-treated oocytes. In conclusion, the studies have shown that S-roscovitine reversibly maintained bovine oocytes at the GV stage for 48 h. However, maintenance of oocytes in static culture for 48 h was not sufficient to improve development above non-treated controls.