Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is the method of choice for fertilizing horse oocytes in vitro. Nevertheless, for reasons that are not yet clear, embryo development rates are low. The aims of this study were to examine cytoskeletal and chromatin reorganization in horse oocytes fertilized by ICSI or activated parthenogenetically. Additional oocytes were injected with a sperm labeled with a mitochondrion-specific vital dye to help identify the contribution of the sperm to zygotic structures, in particular the centrosome. Oocytes were fixed at set intervals after sperm injection and examined by confocal laser scanning microscopy. In unfertilized oocytes, microtubules were present only in the metaphase-arrested second meiotic spindle and the first polar body. After sperm injection, an aster of microtubules formed adjacent to the sperm head and subsequently enlarged such that at the time of pronucleus migration and apposition it filled the entire cytoplasm. During syngamy, the microtubule matrix reorganized to form a mitotic spindle on which the chromatin of both parents aligned. Finally, after nuclear and cellular cleavage were complete, the microtubule asters dispersed into the interphase daughter cells. Sham injection induced parthenogenetic activation of 76% of oocytes, marked by the formation of multiple cytoplasmic microtubular foci that later developed into a dense microtubule network surrounding the female pronucleus. The finding that a parthenote alone can produce a microtubule aster, whereas the aster invariably forms at the base of the sperm head during normal fertilization, indicates that both gametes contribute to the formation of the zygotic centrosome in the horse. Finally, 25% of sperm-injected oocytes failed to complete fertilization, mostly due to absence of oocyte activation (65%), which was often accompanied by failure of sperm decondensation. In conclusion, this study demonstrated that union of the parental genomes in horse zygotes is accompanied by a series of integrated cytoskeleton-mediated events, failure of which results in developmental arrest.
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