Journal of reproduction and fertility
Blastocytst formation is dependent on the differentiation of a transporting epithelium, the trophectoderm, which is coordinated by the embryonic expression and cell adhesive properties of E-cadherin. The trophectoderm shares differentiative characteristics with all epithelial tissues, including E-cadherin-mediated cell adhesion, tight junction formation, and polarized distribution of intramembrane proteins, including the Na-K ATPase. The present study was conducted to characterize the mRNA expression and distribution of polypeptides encoding E-cadherin, beta-catenin, and the tight junction associated protein, zonula occludens protein 1, in pre-attachment bovine embryos, in vitro. Immunocytochemistry and gene specific reverse transcription--polymerase chain reaction methods were used. Transcripts for E-cadherin and beta-catenin were detected in embryos of all stages throughout pre-attachment development. Immunocytochemistry revealed E-cadherin and beta-catenin polypeptides evenly distributed around the cell margins of one-cell zygotes and cleavage stage embryos. In the morula, detection of these proteins diminished in the free apical surface of outer blastomeres. E-cadherin and beta-catenin became restricted to the basolateral membranes of trophectoderm cells of the blastocyst, while maintaining apolar distributions in the inner cell mass. Zonula occludens protein 1 immunoreactivity was undetectable until the morula stage and first appeared as punctate points between the outer cells. In the blastocyst, zonula occludens protein 1 was localized as a continuous ring at the apical points of trophectoderm cell contact and was undetectable in the inner cell mass. These results illustrate that the gene products encoding E-cadherin, beta-catenin and zonula occludens protein 1 are expressed and maintain cellular distribution patterns consistent with their predicted roles in mediating trophectoderm differentiation in in vitro produced bovine embryos.