Alteration of DNA demethylation dynamics by in vitro culture conditions in rabbit pre-implantation embryos.
ABSTRACT Alterations to DNA methylation have been attributed to in vitro culture and may affect normal embryo development. We chose to analyze DNA methylation reprogramming in the rabbit which, of the species with delayed transcriptional activation of the embryonic genome, allows easy comparisons between in vivo-developed (IVD) and in vitro-cultured (IVC) embryos. In this species, variations in DNA methylation had not previously been quantified, even in IVD embryos. IVD and IVC embryos were recovered at the 2, 4, 8 and 16-cell, morula and blastocyst stages. Immunostaining for 5-methyl-cytidine and normalization of the quantity of methylated DNA vs. the total DNA content were then performed. Our quantitative results evidenced DNA demethylation during pre-implantation development in both IVD and IVC embryos, but with different kinetics. Demethylation occurred earlier in vitro than in vivo between the 2 and 8-cell stages in IVC embryos, reaching its lowest level, while it only started at the 4-cell stage and ended at the 16-cell stage in IVD embryos. We also showed that an absence of serum from the culture medium significantly altered the degree of DNA demethylation. Finally, at the blastocyst stage, ICM was more methylated than the trophectoderm in all cases. Despite a morphological delay observed in in vitro cultured blastocysts, the difference in DNA methylation between ICM and trophectoderm cells appeared at the same time post-fertilization in IVD and IVC embryos, which may reflect another difference in the dynamics of DNA methylation during blastocyst formation. Our data thus clearly establish an effect of embryonic environment on DNA methylation reprogramming during pre-implantation development in a non-rodent species.