Apoptosis occurs during preimplantation development in both in vivo- and in vitro-produced embryos, and it may contribute to embryonic loss. The present study investigated the development of porcine nuclear transfer (NT) embryos reconstructed by using fetal fibroblasts as compared to embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF). The onset and the frequency of apoptosis in NT and IVF embryos were examined via morphological and nuclear changes and TUNEL assay. The NT blastocysts had a similar number of nuclei as compared to IVF blastocysts and appeared to be morphologically similar. Relative to IVF embryos, the NT embryos had a lower cleavage rate (42.7% vs. 71.0%) and a lower developmental rate (11.1% vs. 28.6%) to the blastocyst stage. The earliest positive TUNEL signals were detected in the NT embryos on Day 5 of culture. The percentage of cells undergoing apoptosis in the NT embryos was higher than that of the IVF embryos and increased with time in vitro. Some of the abnormal morphological changes observed during early development related to apoptosis. Cytoplasmic fragmentation, developmental arrest, and nuclear condensation were typical characteristics of embryos undergoing apoptosis. Some mechanisms of the apoptotic pathway were triggered by changes in the NT embryos. The developmental rates of NT embryos might be improved by identifying specific apoptotic pathways and then intervening in these pathways to improve development.
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