Mouse embryos display a strain-dependent propensity for blastomere cytofragmentation at the two-cell stage. The maternal pronucleus exerts a predominant, transcription-dependent effect on this phenotype, with lesser effects of the ooplasm and the paternal pronucleus. A parental origin effect has been observed as an inequality in the cytofragmentation rate of embryos produced through genetic crosses of reciprocal F1 hybrid females. To understand the basis for this, we conducted an extensive series of pronuclear transfer studies employing different combinations of inbred and F1 hybrid maternal and paternal genotypes. We find that the parental origin effect is the result of a transgenerational epigenetic modification, whereby the inherited maternal grandpaternal contribution interacts with the fertilizing paternal genome and the ooplasm. This result indicates that some epigenetic information related to grandparental origins of chromosomes (i.e., imprinting of chromosomes in the mother) is retained through oogenesis and transmitted to progeny, where it affects gene expression from the maternal pronucleus and subsequent embryo phenotype. These results reveal for the first time that mammalian embryonic development can be affected by the epigenotype of at least three individuals. Additionally, we observe a significant suppression of fragmentation by F1 hybrid ooplasm when it is separated from the F1 hybrid maternal pronucleus. This latter effect is a striking example of heterosis in the early mammalian embryo, and it provides a new opportunity for examining the molecular mechanisms of heterosis. These results are relevant to our understanding of the mechanisms of epigenetic effects on development and the possible fertility effects of genetic and epigenetic interactions in reproductive medicine.
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Vol. 79 • No. 4