Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology


B. M. Murray A , S. Schmoelzl A , N. M. Andronicos A , J. R. Hill B , P. J. Verma C and M. K. Holland B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CSIRO Livestock Industries, Armidale, NSW, Australia;

B University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD, Australia;

C Monash Institute of Medical Research, Clayton, VIC, Australia;

D CSIRO Livestock Industries, St. Lucia, QLD, Australia

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 22(1) 352-352
Published: 8 December 2009


The optimization of culture media to support the isolation of embryonic stem cells relies on methods to monitor whether the pluripotent state of the cultured cells has been maintained. We developed a panel of gene expression assays that allowed us to correlate molecular measures of pluripotency or lineage differentiation with a developmental time course. By conducting quantitative PCR analysis of sheep embryos over Day 6.5 to 24 and sheep inner cell mass (ICM) cells cultured over 25 days, we tested whether culture media designed to inhibit differentiation are able to maintain sheep ICM cells in a pluripotent state. Briefly, embryos were collected from Merino ewes (n = 50, 3 years) at Day 6.5, 12, 16, 20, and 24 post-AI. Embryos were collected from the dissected uterine tracts of slaughtered ewes, excluding Day 6.5 blastocysts, which were surgically recovered from superovulated ewes. For the in vitro culture, Day 6.5 ICM cells were isolated by immunosurgery and cultured on mitomycin-C-treated mouse embryonic fibroblasts in an inhibitor-based medium (3i, based on Ying Q-L et al. 2008 Nature 453, 519-523). Real-time PCR assays for pluripotency (OCT4, SOX2, NANOG) and differentiation (ectodermal: FGF5, PAX6; endodermal: GATA4, GATA6, Somatostatin; mesodermal: BMP4, Connexin40) of sheep candidate genes were conducted on cDNA prepared from these samples and normalized against the reference genes RPL19 and RPS26. In in vivo embryos, pluripotency markers OCT4, SOX2, and NANOG all decreased between Day 6.5 and Day 20, although OCT4 expression spiked around Day 16. More interestingly, pluripotency expression decreased during in vitro culture, with NANOG expression completely lost by passage 2 at Day 11 and OCT4 expression at an equivalent Day 24 embryo basal level by Day 14. The endodermal markers GATA6 and GATA4 decreased between Day 6.5 and Day 12, respectively, although in vitro GATA4 was only expressed once at Day 7. In vivo FGF5 and both PAX6 and Somatostatin displayed a delayed onset, increasing expression from Day 16 and 20, respectively, whereas the ectodermal markers were already expressed by Day 7 in vitro. Both mesodermal markers Connexin40 and BMP4 presented minor fold changes in both data sets. In conclusion, this study has verified the primer sets and described a sheep in vivo embryo gene expression profile comprising both pluripotent and differentiation candidates. Furthermore, the decrease of pluripotency markers together with the appearance of differentiation markers during in vitro culture of ICM cells suggest that culturing ICM cells in 3i media is not sufficient to maintain a sheep-specific pluripotent population of cells. Therefore, future studies will be aimed at manipulating the current in vitro system to focus on maintaining pluripotent genes such as NANOG and OCT4 in culture.

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