This study was designed to investigate the development of day 2 embryos obtained from young and aged mares, co-cultured with oviductal epithelial cells obtained from mares in each age group in a 2 × 2 crossover design. Young, fertile mares (n = 19; 2–7 years of age) and aged, subfertile, mares (n = 16; 17–24 years of age) were used as embryo and oviductal epithelial cell donors. Embryos (n = 37) were collected from the oviducts 2 days after ovulation and were paired (embryos obtained from young mares with embryos obtained from aged mares) so that eight pairs were co-cultured with young mare oviductal epithelial cells and eight pairs were co-cultured with aged mare oviductal epithelial cells. Five additional embryos obtained from young mares were co-cultured with oviductal epithelial cells from either young mares or aged mares but were not paired. Embryos were co-cultured for 7 days at 38.5°C in 5% CO2 or until morphological degeneration was detected. The proportions of paired embryos that reached the blastocyst stage were similar for embryos obtained from young mares and embryos obtained from aged mares after co-culture with oviductal epithelial cells from young mares (6 of 8 versus 5 of 8) or from aged mares (6 of 8 versus 5 of 8), respectively. Although the overall rate of development of embryos to blastocyst from both young mares and aged mares was similar, blastocysts developing from embryos obtained from aged mares were inferior to blastocysts obtained from young mares in terms of number of cell nuclei, quality score, and diameter at day 7. The results of this experiment indicate that the high rate of early embryonic loss in aged, subfertile mares may be due to inherent developmental defects in their embryos, but does not appear related to the ability of embryos from aged, subfertile mares to reach the blastocyst stage.
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