Manipulating Embryonic Development and Endometrial Function in Ruminants

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Virginia Tech


Early embryogenesis is highlighted by the emergence of several embryonic end extraembryonic lineages. One such lineage is the primitive endoderm, which will eventually give rise to the yolk sac. Once believed to be a vestigial structure, the yolk sac is now believed to play a more prominent role in embryogenesis as it provides nutrients to the preimplantation embryo. The endoderm may also interact with the trophectoderm lineage, as they develop in close contact within the embryo. The efficiency of developing primitive endoderm in vitro is considerably low, leading to a lapse in our understanding of its development and function in cattle and other ruminants. The goal of the first study was to establish a protocol for developing primitive endoderm cultures and characterizing these cells. Bovine embryos were produced in vitro, and primitive endoderm outgrowths were created with fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) supplementation. These cells can be produced in culture with 80.3 5.6% efficiency. Furthermore, outgrowths can be maintained in culture for 6-8 weeks before reaching a quiescent state. A true bovine primitive endoderm cell line does not currently exist, however, these cells hold potential in improving the current understanding of early lineage specification in cattle.

A second set of studies was performed to examine the effects of maternal obesity on the preimplantation conceptus and endometrium. Exposure to maternal obesity in utero affects offspring development at the postnatal, adolescent, and adult stages of development; however, its impacts on early embryogenesis are not well studied. This work utilized an obese ewe model. Once the obese phenotype was established, ewes were bred. Conceptus and endometrial tissue were collected at D 14 of pregnancy, and samples were processed for RNA-sequencing analysis. There were no differences in pregnancy rate, ovulation rate, or pregnancies/ovulation between obese and lean animals. At an RPKM threshold of 0.2, fold-change 2, and FDR 0.05, 669 and 21 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified between obese- and lean-derived endometrial samples and conceptus samples, respectively. Likewise, 137 DEGs were identified between male and female conceptuses. The PANTHER GO-Slim Biological Process system identified several biological processes affected by obesity in both the endometrium and conceptus tissue. GO terms do not currently exist for "placenta" and "trophoblast", so a literature search was conducted to identify DEGs involved in implantation and placentation. This revealed 125 placentation DEGs in the endometrium, and 4 DEGs in conceptuses between obese and lean groups. A follow-up study was conducted to examine the abundance of transcripts with regulatory roles in embryogenesis. Conceptuses exhibited differential expression of DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) based on obesity exposure, fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2) in a sex*obesity interaction, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARG) and prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (PTGS2) in a sex-specific manner. Collectively these results identify the preimplantation period as a susceptible time to maternal obesity in both conceptus and endometrial tissue.

Together, these studies aim to provide a better understanding of the events controlling early embryogenesis, and insight into the implication of insults during this time. These findings will prove to be beneficial in establishing the link between maternal health, endometrial function, and subsequent offspring outcomes, with the hope of promoting a more viable embryo and thus healthier offspring.



Primitive Endoderm, Conceptus, Endometrium, Maternal Obesity