Role of bone morphogenetic protein signaling in bovine early embryonic development and stage specific embryotropic actions of follistatin†

Biol Reprod. 2020 Apr 15;102(4):795-805. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioz235.


Characterization of the molecular factors regulating early embryonic development and their functional mechanisms is critical for understanding the causes of early pregnancy loss in monotocous species (cattle, human). We previously characterized a stage specific functional role of follistatin, a TGF-beta superfamily binding protein, in promoting early embryonic development in cattle. The mechanism by which follistatin mediates this embryotropic effect is not precisely known as follistatin actions in cattle embryos are independent of its classically known activin inhibition activity. Apart from activin, follistatin is known to bind and modulate the activity of the bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), which signal through SMAD1/5 pathway and regulate several aspects of early embryogenesis in other mammalian species. Present study was designed to characterize the activity and functional requirement of BMP signaling during bovine early embryonic development and to investigate if follistatin involves BMP signaling for its stage specific embryotropic actions. Immunostaining and western blot analysis demonstrated that SMAD1/5 signaling is activated after embryonic genome activation in bovine embryos. However, days 1-3 follistatin treatment reduced the abundance of phosphorylated SMAD1/5 in cultured embryos. Inhibition of active SMAD1/5 signaling (8-16 cell to blastocyst) using pharmacological inhibitors and/or lentiviral-mediated inhibitory SMAD6 overexpression showed that SMAD1/5 signaling is required for blastocyst production, first cell lineage determination as well as mRNA and protein regulation of TE (CDX2) cell markers. SMAD1/5 signaling was also found to be essential for embryotropic actions of follistatin during days 4-7 but not days 1-3 of embryo development suggesting a role for follistatin in regulation of SMAD1/5 signaling in bovine embryos.

Keywords: early development; follistatin; in vitro fertilization; mechanisms of hormone action; protein kinase; trophectoderm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cattle
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Embryo Culture Techniques
  • Embryonic Development / drug effects*
  • Embryonic Development / physiology
  • Female
  • Follistatin / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Smad Proteins / metabolism


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Follistatin
  • Smad Proteins