Reproduction (Cambridge, England)
Preimplantation development directs the formation of an implantation- or attachment-competent embryo so that metabolic interactions with the uterus can occur, pregnancy can be initiated, and fetal development can be sustained. The preimplantation embryo exhibits a form of autonomous development fueled by products provided by the oocyte and also from activation of the embryo's genome. Despite this autonomy, the preimplantation embryo is highly influenced by factors in the external environment and in extreme situations, such as those presented by embryo culture or nuclear transfer, the ability of the embryo to adapt to the changing environmental conditions or chromatin to become reprogrammed can exceed its own adaptive capacity, resulting in aberrant embryonic development. Nuclear transfer or embryo culture-induced influences not only affect implantation and establishment of pregnancy but also can extend to fetal and postnatal development and affect susceptibility to disease in later life. It is therefore critical to define the basic program controlling preimplantation development, and also to utilize nuclear transfer and embryo culture models so that we may design healthier environments for preimplantation embryos to thrive in and also minimize the potential for negative consequences during pregnancy and post-gestational life. In addition, it is necessary to couple gene expression analysis with the investigation of gene function so that effects on gene expression can be fully understood. The purpose of this short review is to highlight our knowledge of the mechanisms controlling preimplantation development and report how those mechanisms may be influenced by nuclear transfer and embryo culture.