In Vitro-Produced Equine Blastocysts Exhibit Greater Dispersal and Intermingling of Inner Cell Mass Cells than In Vivo Embryos

Muhammad Umair, Veronica Flores da Cunha Scheeren, Mabel M Beitsma, Silvia Colleoni, Cesare Galli, Giovanna Lazzari, Marta de Ruijter-Villani, Tom A E Stout, Anthony Claes*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In vitro production (IVP) of equine embryos is increasingly popular in clinical practice but suffers from higher incidences of early embryonic loss and monozygotic twin development than transfer of in vivo derived (IVD) embryos. Early embryo development is classically characterized by two cell fate decisions: (1) first, trophectoderm (TE) cells differentiate from inner cell mass (ICM); (2) second, the ICM segregates into epiblast (EPI) and primitive endoderm (PE). This study examined the influence of embryo type (IVD versus IVP), developmental stage or speed, and culture environment (in vitro versus in vivo) on the expression of the cell lineage markers, CDX-2 (TE), SOX-2 (EPI) and GATA-6 (PE). The numbers and distribution of cells expressing the three lineage markers were evaluated in day 7 IVD early blastocysts ( n = 3) and blastocysts ( n = 3), and in IVP embryos first identified as blastocysts after 7 (fast development, n = 5) or 9 (slow development, n = 9) days. Furthermore, day 7 IVP blastocysts were examined after additional culture for 2 days either in vitro ( n = 5) or in vivo (after transfer into recipient mares, n = 3). In IVD early blastocysts, SOX-2 positive cells were encircled by GATA-6 positive cells in the ICM, with SOX-2 co-expression in some presumed PE cells. In IVD blastocysts, SOX-2 expression was exclusive to the compacted presumptive EPI, while GATA-6 and CDX-2 expression were consistent with PE and TE specification, respectively. In IVP blastocysts, SOX-2 and GATA-6 positive cells were intermingled and relatively dispersed, and co-expression of SOX-2 or GATA-6 was evident in some CDX-2 positive TE cells. IVP blastocysts had lower TE and total cell numbers than IVD blastocysts and displayed larger mean inter-EPI cell distances; these features were more pronounced in slower-developing IVP blastocysts. Transferring IVP blastocysts into recipient mares led to the compaction of SOX-2 positive cells into a presumptive EPI, whereas extended in vitro culture did not. In conclusion, IVP equine embryos have a poorly compacted ICM with intermingled EPI and PE cells; features accentuated in slowly developing embryos but remedied by transfer to a recipient mare.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9619
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • ICM
  • blastocysts
  • cell lineage segregation
  • equine
  • in vitro embryo production


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