Use of the Coelomic Grafting Technique for Prolonged ex utero Cultivation of Late Preprimitive Streak-Stage Rabbit Embryos

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Due to its morphological similarity with the early human embryo, the pregastrulation-stage rabbit may represent an appropriate mammalian model for studying processes involved in early human development. The usability of mammalian embryos for experimental studies depends on the availability of whole embryo culture methods facilitating prolonged ex utero development. While currently used culture methods yield high success rates for embryos from primitive streak stages onward, the success rate of extended cultivation of preprimitive streak-stage mammalian embryos is low for all previously established methods and for all studied species. This limits the usability of preprimitive streak-stage rabbit embryos in experimental embryology. We have tested whether the extraembryonic coelom of 4-day-old chick embryos may be used for prolonged ex utero culture of preprimitive streak-stage rabbit embryos (stage 2, 6.2 days post coitum). We found that, within this environment, stage 2 rabbit blastocysts can be cultured at decreasing success rates (55% after 1 day, 35% after 2 days, 15% after 3 days) up to a maximum of 72 h. Grafted blastocysts can continue development from the onset of gastrulation to early organogenesis and thereby form all structures characterizing age-matched controls (e.g. neural tube, somites, beating heart). Compared to normal controls, successfully cultured embryos developed at a slower rate and finally showed some structural and gross morphological anomalies. The method presented here was originally developed for whole embryo culture of mouse embryos by Gluecksohn-Schoenheimer in 1941. It is a simple and inexpensive method that may represent a useful extension to presently available ex utero culture systems for rabbit embryos.

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