Environmental factors affecting interferon-τ expression and secretion by in vitro produced bovine blastocysts
Hickman, Cristina Fontes Lindemann
Interferon (IFN)τ is the luteotrophic signal in ruminants and is secreted by bovine blastocysts both in vivo and in vitro. IFNτ secretion is highly variable and its control is only partly understood. Most studies on the effects of environmental factors on IFNτ production have evaluated IFNτ production during the time of embryo elongation and attachment. There is less knowledge of how IFNτ production at the blastocyst stage is modulated. Therefore, the hypothesis of this thesis was that the amounts of IFNτ expressed and/or secreted by bovine blastocysts produced in vitro were modulated by environmental factors. In the first set of experiments, bovine embryos were incubated with a cytokine (granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor, GM-CSF). GM-CSF had been shown previously to promote embryo viability in a range of species and to modulate IFNτ secretion by ovine blastocysts and thus was classified as a beneficial environmental factor. Three experiments were conducted to test whether GM-CSF stimulated bovine blastocyst development and IFNτ secretion. Embryos were incubated with a range of different concentrations of GM-CSF (2, 5, 10 and 50 ng mL-1) and at different stages of development (1 to 3 and 1 to 9 days post-insemination). Bovine embryos were unresponsive to GM-CSF in terms of IFNτ secretion, pyruvate oxidation, rate of development, blastocyst yield, morphological quality and apoptotic index, irrespective of timing of exposure and/or concentration of GM-CSF. In the second part of the thesis, bovine blastocysts were exposed to a mild heat treatment (42°C for four h) to determine whether heat stress affected IFNτ expression by bovine blastocysts. A novel multiplex reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction methodology was validated to detect IFNτ and heat shock protein (HSP)70 mRNA in individual bovine embryos relative to an endogenous gene (YWHAZ) and an exogenous mRNA (α-globin) and results were expressed both in absolute terms and in relation to the endogenous control. Heat treatment upregulated IFNτ mRNA expression, suggesting that detrimental environmental factors may influence IFNτ expression. Heat treatment also caused an increase in HSP70 mRNA expression but did not affect blastocyst morphology, suggesting that the level of stress caused by the heat treatment was great enough to activate the cellular stress response, but mild enough not to cause a change in morphology. In addition, the positive correlation between HSP70 and IFNτ transcript levels and the higher IFNτ expression by embryos which showed signs of degeneration and collapse compared to those which progressed in development suggested that IFNτ expression may be indicative of stress. The relationship between IFNτ expression and secretion in vitro with morphology, pyruvate metabolism, apoptotic index and cell number was inconsistent, suggesting that IFNτ production did not correlate with ‘quality’ (defined as an index of viability). Blastocyst yield, day of blastulation and change in morphology index did account for at least part of the variation in IFNτ production, suggesting that some intrinsic factors may regulate IFNτ secretion. These intrinsic factors, however, did not explain all the variation in IFNτ secretion between blastocysts. Therefore, the amount of IFNτ secreted by bovine blastocysts is modulated by both intrinsic and environmental factors. A model was proposed where different levels of stress affect survivability to different extents, and the ability to respond to mild levels of stress may be indicative of improved survivability.