Assessment of ‘one-step’ versus ‘sequential’ embryo culture conditions through embryonic genome methylation and hydroxymethylation changes

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Abstract

STUDY QUESTION

In comparison to in vivo development, how do different conditions of in vitro culture (‘one step’ versus ‘sequential medium’) impact DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation in preimplantation embryos?

SUMMARY ANSWER

Using rabbit as a model, we show that DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation are both affected by in vitro culture of preimplantation embryos and the effect observed depends on the culture medium used.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY

Correct regulation of DNA methylation is essential for embryonic development and DNA hydroxymethylation appears more and more to be a key player. Modifications of the environment of early embryos are known to have long term effects on adult phenotypes and health; these probably rely on epigenetic alterations.

STUDY DESIGN SIZE, DURATION

The study design we used is both cross sectional (control versus treatment) and longitudinal (time-course). Each individual in vivo experiment used embryos flushed from the donor at the 2-, 4-, 8-, 16- or morula stage. Each stage was analyzed in at least two independent experiments. Each individual in vitro experiment used embryos flushed from donors at the 1-cell stage (19 h post-coïtum) which were then cultured in parallel in the two tested media until the 2-, 4-, 8- 16-cell or morula stages. Each stage was analyzed in at least three independent experiments. In both the in vivo and in vitro experiments, 4-cell stage embryos were always included as an internal reference.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS

Immunofluorescence with antibodies specific for 5-methylcytosine (5meC) and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmeC) was used to quantify DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation levels in preimplantation embryos. We assessed the expression of DNA methyltransferases (DNMT), of ten eleven translocation (TET) dioxigenases and of two endogenous retroviral sequences (ERV) using RT-qPCR, since the expression of endogenous retroviral sequences is known to be regulated by DNA methylation. Three repeats were first done for all stages; then three additional repetitions were performed for those stages showing differences or tendencies toward differences between the different conditions in the first round of quantification.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE

The kinetics of DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation were modified in in vitro cultured embryos, and the observed differences depended on the type of medium used. These differences were statistically significant. In addition, the expression of TET1 and TET2 was significantly reduced in post-embryonic genome activation (EGA) embryos after in vitro culture in both tested conditions. Finally, the expression of two retroviral sequences was analyzed and found to be significantly affected by in vitro culture.

LIMITATIONS REASONS FOR CAUTION

Our study remains mostly descriptive as no direct link can be established between the epigenetic changes observed and the expression changes in both effectors and targets of the studied epigenetic modifications. The results we obtained suggest that gene expression could be affected on a large scale, but this remains to be confirmed.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS

Our results are in agreement with the literature, showing that DNA methylation is sensitive to in vitro culture. As we observed an effect of both tested culture conditions on the tested epigenetic marks and on gene expression, we cannot conclude which medium is potentially closest to in vivo conditions. However, as the observed effects are different, additional studies may provide more information and potential recommendations for the use of culture media in assisted reproductive technology.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S)

This work was supported by an ‘AMP diagnostic prénatal et diagnostic génétique’ 2012 grant from the French Agence de la Biomédecine. This study was performed within the framework of ANR LABEX ‘REVIVE’ (ANR-10-LABX-73). Authors are members of RGB-Net (TD 1101) and Epiconcept (FA 1201) COST actions. The authors declare that there is no competing interest.

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