The objective of this study was to examine the time during the postfertilization period that gene expression patterns in in vitro-cultured bovine embryos diverge from those of their in vivo-cultured counterparts. Presumptive bovine zygotes were produced by in vitro maturation and fertilization of immature oocytes collected from the ovaries of slaughtered animals. Approximately 20 h post insemination (hpi), zygotes were denuded and randomly divided into two groups for culture either in vitro, in synthetic oviduct fluid medium, or in vivo, in the ewe oviduct. Embryos were recovered from both systems at approximately 30 hpi (2-cell), 2 (4-cell), 3 (8-cell), 4 (16-cell), 5 (early morula), 6 (compact morula), or 7 (blastocyst) days post insemination. On recovery, they were examined for stage of development and snap frozen in liquid nitrogen for the analysis of transcript abundance using real-time polymerase chain reaction. The transcripts studied were glucose transporter 5, sarcosine oxidase, mitochondrial Mn-superoxide dismutase, connexin 43, interferon tau, insulin-like growth factor II, apoptosis regulator box-alpha and insulin-like growth factor-I receptor, most of which are known from our previous work to differ in terms of transcript abundance in blastocysts derived from culture in vitro or in vivo. The results demonstrate that the relative abundance of the transcripts studied varies throughout the preimplantation period and is strongly influenced by the culture environment. In addition, the data demonstrate that changes in transcript abundance in blastocyst stage embryos are in many cases a consequence of perturbed transcription earlier in development. Depending on the transcript, these differences may be evident by as little as 10 h of initiation of culture. Such information has implications not only for basic biology but also for human assisted reproduction in which there is a move toward culturing embryos to the blastocyst stage, necessitating prolonged culture in vitro under potentially deleterious conditions.
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