Frontiers in Genetics
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Extracellular microRNA (miRNA) sequences derived from the pre-implantation embryo have attracted interest for their possible contributions to the ongoing embryonic–uterine milieu, as well as their potential for use as accessible biomarkers indicative of embryonic health. Spent culture media microdroplets used to culture late-stage E4.0 murine blastocysts were screened for 641 mature miRNA sequences using a reverse transcription–quantitative polymerase chain reaction–based array. We report here 39 miRNAs exclusively detected in the conditioned media, including the implantation-relevant miR-126a-3p, miR-101a, miR-143, and miR-320, in addition to members of the highly expressed embryonic miR-125 and miR-290 families. Based on these results, an miRNA panel was assembled comprising five members of the miR-290 family (miR-291-295) and five conserved sequences with significance to the embryonic secretome (miR-20a, miR-30c, miR-142-3p, miR-191, and miR-320). Panel profiling of developing embryo cohort lysates and accompanying conditioned media microdroplets revealed extensive similarities in relative quantities of miRNAs and, as a biomarker proof of concept, enabled distinction between media conditioned with differently staged embryos (zygote, 4-cell, and blastocyst). When used to assess media conditioned with embryos of varying degrees of degeneration, the panel revealed increases in all extracellular panel sequences, suggesting cell death is an influential and identifiable factor detectable by this assessment. In situ hybridization of three panel sequences (miR-30c, miR-294, and miR-295) in late-stage blastocysts revealed primarily inner cell mass expression with a significant presence of miR-294 throughout the blastocyst cavity. Furthermore, extracellular miR-290 sequences responded significantly to high centrifugal force, suggesting a substantial fraction of these sequences may exist within a vesicle such as an exosome, microvesicle, or apoptotic bleb. Together, these results support the use of extracellular miRNA to assess embryonic health and enable development of a non-invasive viability diagnostic tool for clinical use.