Combined synchronization and superovulation treatments negatively impact embryo viability possibly by the downregulation of WNT/β-catenin and Notch signaling genes in the porcine endometrium

J Anim Sci. 2022 Nov 1;100(11):skac315. doi: 10.1093/jas/skac315.


The combination of estrus synchronization and superovulation treatments introduces molecular modifications whose effects are yet to be disclosed. Here, reproductive parameters and gene expression changes in ovaries and endometrium were explored on day 6 after artificial insemination (AI), when synthetic progestin altrenogest (ALT) was combined with gonadotropins. Sows were administered ALT for 7 d beginning on the day of weaning and superovulated with equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG) 24 h later and human chorionic gonadotropins (hCG) at the onset of estrus (SS-7 group; n = 6). The controls were either superovulated sows with eCG 24 h postweaning and hCG at the onset of estrus (SC group; n = 6) or sows with postweaning spontaneous estrus (NC group; n = 6). Ovary examination and embryo and tissue collection were performed in all sows via laparotomy on day 6 post-AI. RNA-Seq was conducted to analyze differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between groups. Statistical analysis of the reproductive parameters was conducted with ANOVA and Tukey post hoc tests. DEGs were analyzed with an ANOVA (fold changes ≥2 or ≤2, P value <0.05). Hormonal treatments almost doubled (P < 0.03) the number of corpora lutea (39.8 ± 10.2 and 38.3 ± 11.1 in SS-7 and SC sows, respectively) compared with that in the NC group (23.1 ± 3.8). In contrast, embryo viability significantly decreased (P < 0.003) in response to SS-7 treatment (75.1% ± 15.2%) compared to SC and NC groups (93.8 ± 7.6% and 91.8 ± 6.9%, respectively). RNA-Seq analyses revealed 675 and 1,583 DEGs in the SS-7 group compared to both SC and NC groups in endometrial and ovarian samples, respectively. Interestingly, many genes with key roles in the Wnt/β-catenin and Notch signaling pathways were differentially expressed in SS-7 sows relative to SC and NC groups (e.g., Ctnnb1, Myc, Gli3, Scyl2, Ccny, Daam1, Ppm1n, Rbpj, and Usp8). A key finding in this study was the downregulation of β-catenin (Ctnnb1) gene expression in the SS-7 endometrium, suggesting that this treatment influences embryo-uterine dialogue by triggering a cascade of events leading to embryo maldevelopment. These data explain the proliferative defects in SS-7 embryos and suggest a novel mechanism of a porcine embryo-maternal crosstalk.

Keywords: altrenogest; embryo death; pathways; sequencing; synchronization.

Plain language summary

Methods for porcine superovulation (increasing the number of ovulated oocytes per cycle) and estrus synchronization (grouping estrus sows on the same day) are available for assisted reproductive technologies, using hormonal treatments. The main goal of the present study was to understand how hormones used for these purposes influence gene expression patterns in the female reproductive tract (ovaries and endometrium). We observed that hormonal treatments (synchronization combined with superovulation) have the potential to alter ovarian and endometrial gene expression patterns, triggering improper follicle development and oocyte growth, and leading to abnormal embryonic development before implantation. Genes involved in two key metabolic pathways for embryo development (Wnt/β-catenin and Notch signaling pathways) were dysregulated in reproductive tissues.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / pharmacology
  • Down-Regulation
  • Endometrium
  • Female
  • Gonadotropins, Equine
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Notch / metabolism
  • Superovulation* / physiology
  • Swine
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway
  • beta Catenin*


  • beta Catenin
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin
  • Gonadotropins, Equine
  • Receptors, Notch