The cloning of cattle by somatic cell nuclear transfer (NT) is associated with a high incidence of abnormal placentation, excessive fluid accumulation in the fetal sacs (hydrops syndrome), and fetal overgrowth. Fetal and placental development was investigated at Day 50, during placentome formation; at Day 100, when placentation was completed; and at Day 150, when the hydrops syndrome frequently develops. The NT fetuses were compared with contemporary half-siblings generated from in vitro-produced embryos or by artificial insemination (AI). Fetal cotyledon formation and vascularization of the chorioallantoic membranes was initiated normally in NT conceptuses, but fewer cotyledons successfully formed placentomes. By Day 100, the mean number of placentomes was significantly lower in surviving NT fetuses. Only those with normal placentome numbers were represented in surviving NT pregnancies at Day 150. The mean total caruncle tissue weight of the placentomes was significantly higher in the surviving NT groups at Days 100 and 150, irrespective of the placentome numbers, indicating that increased NT placental weight was caused by excessive uterine tissue growth. By Day 100, NT fetuses exhibited growth deregulation, and those that survived to Day 150 were 17% heavier than contemporary AI controls. Placentome, liver, and kidney overgrowth accompanied the hydrops syndrome at Day 150. The NT fetal overgrowth was not a consequence of in vitro embryo culture and showed no correlation with placental overgrowth. However, in vitro culture and incomplete reprogramming of the donor genome are epigenetic effects that may override genetic traits and contribute to the greater variability in placental and fetal development in the NT group compared with AI half-siblings.
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