Developmental competence of equine oocytes and embryos obtained by in vitro procedures ranging from in vitro maturation and ICSI to embryo culture, cryopreservation and somatic cell nuclear transfer

Anim Reprod Sci. 2007 Mar;98(1-2):39-55. doi: 10.1016/j.anireprosci.2006.10.011. Epub 2006 Oct 17.


Development of assisted reproductive technologies in horses has been relatively slow compared to other domestic species, namely ruminants and pigs. The scarce availability of abattoir ovaries and the lack of interest from horse breeders and breed associations have been the main reasons for this delay. Progressively though, the technology of oocyte maturation in vitro has been established followed by the application of ICSI to achieve fertilization in vitro. Embryo culture was initially performed in vivo, in the mare oviduct or in the surrogate sheep oviduct, to achieve the highest embryo development, in the range of 18-36% of the fertilised oocytes. Subsequently, the parallel improvement of in vitro oocyte maturation conditions and embryo culture media has permitted high rates of embryo development from in vitro matured and in vitro cultured ICSI embryos, ranging from 5 to 10% in the early studies to up to 38% in the latest ones. From 2003, with the birth of the first cloned equids, the technology of somatic cell nuclear transfer has also become established due to improvement of the basic steps of embryo production in vitro, including cryopreservation. Pregnancy and foaling rates are still estimated based on a small number of in vitro produced equine embryos transferred to recipients. The largest set of data on non-surgical embryo transfer of in vitro produced embryos, from ICSI of both abattoir and in vitro-matured Ovum Pick Up (OPU) oocytes, and from somatic cell nuclear transfer, has been obtained in our laboratory. The data demonstrate that equine embryos produced by OPU and then cryopreserved can achieve up to 69% pregnancy rate with a foaling rate of 83%. These percentages are reduced to 11 and 23%, respectively, for cloned embryos. In conclusion, extensive evidence exists that in vitro matured equine oocytes can efficiently develop into viable embryos and offspring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cryopreservation
  • Embryo, Mammalian / physiology
  • Female
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Nuclear Transfer Techniques / veterinary*
  • Oocytes / physiology*
  • Ovum / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / physiology
  • Sperm Injections, Intracytoplasmic / methods*
  • Sperm Injections, Intracytoplasmic / veterinary