We have cloned the bovine homologue of Mater (maternal antigen that embryos require) cDNA, potentially the first germ cell-specific maternal-effect gene in this species. The 3297 base-pair longest open reading frame encodes a putative protein of 1098 amino acids with a domain organization similar to its human counterpart. By reverse transcription coupled to polymerase chain reaction, we have analyzed the spatiotemporal expression of MATER, along with other potential markers of germ cells or oocytes: ZAR1 (zygotic arrest 1), GDF9 (growth and differentiation factor 9), BMP15 (bone morphogenetic protein 15), and VASA. In agreement with a preferential oocyte origin, MATER, ZAR1, GDF9, and BMP15 transcripts were detected in the oocyte itself at a much higher level than in the gonads, while no significant expression was detected in our panel of somatic tissues (uterus, heart, spleen, intestine, liver, lung, mammary gland, muscle). In situ hybridization confirmed oocyte-restricted expression of MATER and ZAR1 within the ovary, as early as preantral follicle stages. VASA was highly represented in the testis and the ovary, and still present in the oocyte from antral follicles. Maternal MATER, ZAR1, GDF9, and BMP15 transcripts persisted during oocyte in vitro maturation and fertilization and in preimplantation embryo until the five- to eight-cell or morula stage, but transcription was not reactivated at the time of embryonic genome activation.
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