Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) is an important endocrine signal for regulation of early embryonic development. It increases the proportion of preimplantation embryos becoming blastocysts, alters blastocyst gene expression, improves resistance of embryos to various stresses and can enhance survival of embryos after transfer to recipients. The present study had two objectives. The first was to determine whether the thermoprotective actions of IGF1 on the preimplantation bovine embryo was developmentally regulated, with the two-cell embryo being refractory to IGF1. The second was to determine the molecular basis for the improved competence of embryos treated with IGF1 to establish pregnancy after transfer to heat-stressed recipients. Treatment of embryos with 100 ng/ml IGF1 reduced the effects of heat shock on embryos ≥16 cells at day 5 after insemination but did not provide thermoprotection to two-cell embryos. Failure of IGF1 to alter embryo survival after heat shock was not associated with reduced expression of genes involved in IGF1 signaling (IGF1R, RAF1, PI3K, and MAPK) or immunoreactive IGF1R protein. Treatment with IGF1 had little effect on the transcriptome at the blastocyst stage of development, with a total of 102 differentially expressed genes identified. Among the differentially expressed genes were several involved in apoptosis, protection against free radicals and development. Changes in gene expression were consistent with IGF1 acting to induce an anti-apoptotic state and inhibit neurulation. In conclusion, thermoprotective actions of IGF1 are developmentally regulated. Failure of IGF1 to protect the two-cell embryo from heat shock could reflect the fact that these embryos are maximally sensitive to damage caused by heat shock or reflect the quiescence of the embryonic genome at this stage of development. Changes in gene expression at the blastocyst stage induced by IGF1 could contribute to the increased survival of IGF1-treated embryos when transferred during periods of heat stress.
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