Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are successfully applied in several mammals, including humans, thanks to the ability of oocytes and embryos to face maturation, fertilization and first development in vitro. However, efficiency and safety of ART represent main issues. Mammalian oocytes and early embryos are transcriptionally inactive, and rely exclusively on maternal RNAs and proteins, deposited during oocyte growth, until embryonic genome activation (EGA). Such transcriptional quiescence needs complex post-transcriptional and post-translational mechanisms to coordinate meiotic maturation, fertilization, and reprogramming of the nascent genome. These events are the final outcome of complex, hormonally regulated biological processes that translate into specific molecular mechanisms, which are still far from being fully understood. A deep knowledge of these early phases of development is crucial to understand the core mechanisms of life onset, and to optimize the safety and efficiency of in vitro reproductive technologies. This work focuses on meiotic progression and pre-implantation development in mammals, underlining the importance of fundamental molecules stored during oocyte growth and selectively used during early embryogenic stages. Taking into account the species-specific behaviour of these pivotal molecules, this review describes the advantages of using large domestic animals for research in the reproductive field and proposes large domestic animals as models to improve human ART.
Keywords: Oocyte, embryo genome activation, transcriptome, large animal models, ART, maternal RNAs, meiotic maturation, fertilization, nascent embryonic genome, proto-oncogene
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