The TGF-beta-SMAD signaling pathway is involved in regulation of various aspects of female reproduction. However, the intrinsic functional role of SMADs in early embryogenesis remains poorly understood. Previously, we demonstrated that treatment with follistatin, an activin (TGF-beta superfamily ligand)-binding protein, is beneficial for bovine early embryogenesis and specific embryotropic actions of follistatin are dependent on SMAD4. Because SMAD4 is a common SMAD that can bind both SMAD2/3 and SMAD1/5, the objective of this study was to further determine the intrinsic role of SMAD2/3 in the control of early embryogenesis and delineate if embryotropic actions of follistatin in early embryos are SMAD2/3 dependent. By using a combination of pharmacological and small interfering RNA-mediated inhibition of SMAD2/3 signaling in the presence or absence of follistatin treatment, our results indicate that SMAD2 and SMAD3 are both required for bovine early embryonic development and stimulatory actions of follistatin on 8- to 16-cell and that blastocyst rates, but not early cleavage, are muted when SMAD2/3 signaling is inhibited. SMAD2 deficiency also results in reduced expression of the bovine trophectoderm cell-specific gene CTGF. In conclusion, the present work provides evidence supporting a functional role of SMAD2/3 in bovine early embryogenesis and that specific stimulatory actions of follistatin are not observed in the absence of SMAD2/3 signaling.
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Vol. 93 • No. 4