Capabilities and Challenges of Examination of Gene Expression for Quality Assessment of Domestic Cat Embryos

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Early embryos are characterized by an accurately controlled gene expression pattern that might be deregulated during in vitro culture (IVC). The expression pattern of the developmental genes may serve as markers for embryo quality. Here, we examined the temporal pattern of relative mRNA abundance of genes important for early embryonic development in embryos produced by different fertilization methods [in vitro fertilization (IVF) vs intracytoplasmic sperm cell injection (ICSI)] and sperm sources (fresh vs frozen–thawed) applying reverse transcriptase (RT) PCR. The temporal pattern of gene expression was found to be gene specific and similar in all four examined groups in a semi-quantitative assay. In morulae, higher relative mRNA levels were found in embryos generated with fresh sperm, whereas in blastocysts, mRNA abundance tended to be higher in embryos produced with cryopreserved sperm cells. This indicates an influence of sperm cryopreservation on the temporal gene expression pattern in early cat embryos. We also examined relative mRNA abundances by real-time quantitative RT-PCR in blastocysts. In this context, blastocysts produced with fresh semen tended to have lower DNA methyltransferase 3A (DNMT3A) but higher gap junction protein alpha 1 (GJA1) and octamer-binding transcription factor 4 (OCT4) mRNA levels compared with those derived with frozen–thawed semen. We conclude that assessing embryo quality by measuring gene expression pattern in early embryos is challenging because of a high variability between individual embryos.

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