Mammalian preimplantation development involves two lineage specifications: first, the CDX2-expressing trophectoderm (TE) and a pluripotent inner cell mass (ICM) are separated during blastocyst formation. Second, the pluripotent epiblast (EPI; expressing NANOG) and the differentiated primitive endoderm (PrE; expressing GATA6) diverge within the ICM. Studies in mice revealed that OCT4/POU5F1 is at the center of a pluripotency regulatory network. To study the role of OCT4 in bovine preimplantation development, we generated OCT4 knockout (KO) fibroblasts by CRISPR-Cas9 and produced embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). SCNT embryos from nontransfected fibroblasts and embryos produced by in vitro fertilization served as controls. In OCT4 KO morulae (day 5), ∼70% of the nuclei were OCT4 positive, indicating that maternal OCT4 mRNA partially maintains OCT4 protein expression during early development. In contrast, OCT4 KO blastocysts (day 7) lacked OCT4 protein entirely. CDX2 was detected only in TE cells; OCT4 is thus not required to suppress CDX2 in the ICM. Control blastocysts showed a typical salt-and-pepper distribution of NANOG- and GATA6-positive cells in the ICM. In contrast, NANOG was absent or very faint in the ICM of OCT4 KO blastocysts, and no cells expressing exclusively NANOG were observed. This mimics findings in OCT4-deficient human blastocysts but is in sharp contrast to Oct4-null mouse blastocysts, where NANOG persists and PrE development fails. Our study supports bovine embryogenesis as a model for early human development and exemplifies a general strategy for studying the roles of specific genes in embryos of domestic species.
Keywords: GATA6; NANOG; OCT4; bovine; embryo.