Elevated concentrations of circulating progesterone in the immediate postconception period have been associated with an increase in embryonic growth rate, interferon-tau production, and pregnancy rate in cattle and sheep. Much of this effect is likely mediated via downstream effects of progesterone-induced changes in gene expression in the uterine tissues. Using state-of-the-art endoscopic techniques, this study examined the effect of elevated progesterone on the development of in vitro produced bovine zygotes transferred to the oviducts of heifers with high or normal circulating progesterone concentrations and on the transcriptome of blastocysts developing under such conditions. Simmental heifers (n = 34) were synchronized using a controlled internal drug release (CIDR) device for 8 days, with a prostaglandin F2alpha analogue administered 3 days before removal of the CIDR device. Only animals exhibiting a clear standing estrus (Day 0) were used. To produce animals with divergent progesterone concentrations, half of the animals received a progesterone-releasing intravaginal device (PRID) on Day 3 of the estrous cycle; the PRID was left in place until embryo recovery. All animals were sampled for blood daily from Day 0 to Day 7. Cleaved embryos were transferred by endoscopy to the ipsilateral oviduct of each recipient on Day 2 and then recovered by nonsurgically flushing the oviduct and the uterus on Day 7. The number of embryos developing to the blastocyst stage was recorded at recovery and following overnight culture in vitro. Potential effects of elevated progesterone on transcript abundance were examined using the Affymetrix GeneChip Bovine Genome Array. Insertion of a PRID on Day 3 resulted in a significant elevation of progesterone concentration (P < 0.05) from Day 3.5 until Day 6. Elevated progesterone did not affect the proportion of embryos developing to the blastocyst stage. Genomewide gene expression analysis identified 194 differentially expressed genes between embryos collected from heifers with normal or elevated progesterone, and quantitative real-time PCR validation with a subset of selected genes and an independent sample confirmed the microarray results. Interaction network analysis indicated a significant interaction between progesterone-regulated genes in the blastocyst and in the maternal endometrium. These results suggest that elevated concentrations of progesterone do not affect the ability of the early embryo to reach the blastocyst stage in vivo but do result in subtle changes to the transcriptome of the embryo that may be associated with advanced elongation posthatching.
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Vol. 83 • No. 5