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ABSTRACT: Current embryo culture media are based on the carbohydrate metabolism of embryos. However, little is known about the metabolism of endogenous lipids. This is surprising given the high intracellular lipid densities of embryos of some species and the potential for ATP production via β-oxidation. L-carnitine is a β-oxidation co-factor that is absent in most culture media. The aim of this study is to investigate the influence of carnitine supplementation±carbohydrates on bovine embryo development. Abattoir-derived cattle cumulus-oocyte complexes were cultured and fertilised (Sutton-McDowall et al. 2006 Biol. Reprod. 74, 881-888). Post-fertilisation (24h), presumptive zygotes were transferred into an amino acid-free cleavage media±carbohydrates (glucose, lactate and pyruvate) ±5mM carnitine and cultured for 4 days. The absence of carbohydrates during culture resulted in embryos arresting at the 2- and 4-cell stages. Remarkably, +carnitine significantly increased development to the morula stage compared with +carbohydrates alone (20.4±3% vs 4.7±2.5% morula development; P<0.001). The combination of carbohydrates and carnitine supplementation further improved embryo development, with 14-fold more embryos reaching the morula stage after culture in the +carbohydrates +carnitine group compared with the +carbohydrates group (+carbohydrates=3.1±1.9 vs +carbohydrates +carnitine=43.8±9.1% morula development; P<0.05). The beneficial effects of carnitine supplementation on embryo development were reversed when embryos were cultured in presence of etomoxir, a non-reversible inhibitor of the rate-limiting enzyme of β-oxidation (development to 8-cell stage; +carnitine=33.9±8% vs +carnitine +etomoxir=19.2±4.9%; P<0.05). Intracellular lipid content of embryos +carnitine was determined by culturing presumptive zygotes in media -carbohydrates±carnitine for 24h. Lipid content of embryos was determined by measuring BODIPY 493/503 dye fluorescence. Carnitine supplementation reduced fluorescence intensity 1.8-fold (P<0.001). Adenosine triphosphate and ATP:ADP levels were measured in embryos after 24h of culture±carbohydrates±carnitine. While there was a trend for +carnitine to increase ATP levels (P=0.09), ADP levels were higher and ATP:ADP ratio were 1.9-fold lower (main effect, P<0.05) compared with embryos cultured in -carnitine. This indicates +carnitine embryos were more metabolically active, with higher rates of ATP-ADP conversion. We have shown carnitine supplementation supports pre-compaction embryo development and there is an additive effect of +carnitine +carbohydrate on early embryo development. This is most likely through increased β-oxidation levels within embryos. Current disparities between in vivo and in vitro embryo production, in particular increased lipid content (Romek et al. 2010 Theriogenology 74, 265-276) and decreased developmental potential of in vitro-produced embryos, may be an artefact resulting from limited lipid oxidation in vitro.
Reproduction Fertility and Development 12/2011; 24(1):158-9. · 2.58 Impact Factor