The production of bovine embryos through in vitro maturation and fertilization is an important tool of the genomic revolution in dairy cattle. Gene expression analysis of these embryos revealed differences according to the culture conditions or oocyte donor's pubertal status compared to in vivo derived embryos. We hypothesized that some of the methylation patterns in oocytes are acquired in the last step of folliculogenesis and could be influenced by the environment created in the follicles containing these oocytes. These altered patterns may not be erased during the first week of embryonic development in culture or may be sensitive to the conditions during that time. To quantify the changes related to culture conditions, an in vivo control group consisting of embryos (Day 12 post fertilization for all groups) obtained from superovulated and artificially inseminated cows was compared to in vitro produced (IVP) embryos cultured with or without Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS). To measure the effect of the oocytes donor's age, we also compared a fourth group consisting of IVP embryos produced with oocytes collected following ovarian stimulation of pre-pubertal animals. Embryonic disk and trophoblast cells were processed separately and the methylation status of ten imprinted genes (H19, MEST, KCNQ1, SNRPN, PEG3, NNAT, GNASXL, IGF2R, PEG10, and PLAGL1) was assessed by pyrosequencing. Next, ten Day 7 blastocysts were produced following the same methodology as for the D12 embryos (four groups) to observe the most interesting genes (KCNQ1, SNRPN, IGF2R and PLAGL1) at an earlier developmental stage. For all samples, we observed overall lower methylation levels and greater variability in the three in vitro groups compared to the in vivo group. The individual embryo analysis indicated that some embryos were deviant from the others and some were not affected. We concluded that IGF2R, SNRPN, and PEG10 were particularly sensitive to culture conditions and the presence of FBS, while KCNQ1 and PLAGL1 were more affected in embryos derived from pre-pubertal donors. This work provides markers at the single imprinted control region (ICR) resolution to assess the culture environment required to minimize epigenetic perturbations in bovine embryos generated by assisted reproduction techniques, thus laying the groundwork for a better comprehension of the complex interplay between in vitro conditions and imprinted genes.
Keywords: ART; Bovine embryo; Epigenetics; Imprinted gene; In vitro embryo; Methylation.
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