The aim of the present study was to find a reliable functional criterion for the evaluation of the proliferation potential of bovine in vitro-produced embryos. We used immunocytochemical detection of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) combined with propidium iodide (PI) staining and subsequent confocal laser scanning microscopy together with routine morphological evaluation under a stereomicroscope to study fresh Day 7, 8, and 9, and cryopreserved Day 7 and 8 embryos. The ratio of PCNA/PI-positive nuclei was equal in fresh Day 7 and Day 8 embryos and significantly lower in Day 9 embryos. In general, Day 7 embryos tolerated the cryopreservation treatments better than Day 8 embryos. Vitrification in normal straws was especially detrimental to Day 8 embryos. In fresh Day 7 and 8 embryos, the PCNA results were in agreement with stereomicroscopic evaluation. However, in Day 9 fresh and in Day 7 and 8 treated embryos, the missing PCNA revealed disorders that were not observed under morphological evaluation. PCNA immunocytochemistry is an effective method to obtain information about the functional state of nuclei. The ratio of PCNA-positive nuclei can provide more information and numerical data about the developmental potential of bovine embryos after cryopreservation.
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