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​Assisted Reproduction and preimplantation embryology in bovine​​

​Our research focuses on the analysis of early embryonic development in vivo and in vitro in mammals, the understanding of mechanisms controling embryo-maternal interactions, the study of factors responsible for infertility in dairy cows, and the development of strategies reducing embryonic losses and increasing pregnancy rates.

Grupo de investigación dependiente del

​Department of Animal Reproduction

Reproductive performance is one of the most important factors affecting the profitability of dairy farms and the development of national economy, as well as the living standards of rural and urban societies. Reduced fertility in modern livestock production systems is often seen as a failure of reproductive physiology that must be corrected. Knowledge of the mechanisms underlaying preimplantation embryo-maternal interaction will lead to the development of new strategies capable, on the one hand, to reduce early embryonic losses and increase pregnancy rates in dairy cattle, and on the other hand, to improve Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs), both with clear social and economic impact for the livestock industry. Our studies represent an improvement in the area of Reproductive Biotechnology allowing the production in vitro of embryos with better quality from animals of high genetic value and/or native and wild breeds, capable to establish pregnancies in embryo transfer programs. Therefore, our research contributes to technological development and national and international sustainability in the livestock sector and the improvement of ARTs in mammals, including humans.

Research activities

Our research group is an interdisciplinary group using different methodologies, both basic and applied, in aspects related to reproductive biotechnology in livestock species. 

The principal objectives of our group are:

• To analyze early embryonic development in mammals, from the day of conception until the start of the implantation using in vivo and in vitro models.

• To understand the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that control preimplantation embryo development in vivo and in vitro, and their developmental plasticity/vulnerability.

• To determine the factors that affect the pproduction of embryos in vitro and their quality by mimicking physiological conditions (Oviductal and Uterine epithelia cells, Oviductal and Uterine fluids and their Extracellular Vesicles/Exosome).

• To understand the mechanisms that control embryo-maternalinteractions in the reproductive tract (oviduct and uterus).

• To study factors responsible for subfertility in dairy cows.

• The use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies Artificial Insemination, Synchronization, Superovulation, Ovum Pick Up, Cryopreservation, Embryo Transfer) to enhance reproductive efficiency in cattle.

• To study factors associated with puberty onset in cattle.

We were the first to demonstrate a reciprocal and local crosstalk between the embryo and the oviduct suggesting that this organ is more than just a passive structure for the embryo during its journey to the uterus. While, we provided also a transcriptional differences between the isthmus and ampulla regions of the oviduct at the time when the embryo is present.

Besides, we demonstrated that the presence of low concentrations of oviductal and uterine fluid in serum-free in vitro culture medium of bovine embryos has a positive effect on embryo development and the quality of the resulting blastocysts.

In addition, by trying to mimic the intercellular communications between oviductal tissue and embryo, we first provided evidence that Extracellular Vesicles (VEs) (EVs) isolated from the conditioned medium of Bovine oviductal Epithelial Cell culture (BOECs), as well as EVs isolated from the Isthmus part of the oviduct improve embryo quality and induce cryoprotection in in vitro cultures. Identification of the molecular mechanisms behind this maternal-embryo communication that affects the embryo development in vitro would help to improve current Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) actuales.

Among the recent achievements by using an in vitro approachallowing a local and temporal interaction between the embryo and BOECs, we confirmed that the early embryo affects the gene expression of these cells. The effect is embryo stage specific and resulted from a direct contact with BOECs or from embryo secretions released into the media.

Currently, we are studying the microRNAs and protein content of EVs from the reproductive tract of heifers at the different stages of the oestrus cycle and their effect on development and quality of produced blastocysts using a sequential in vitro culture system.

In relation to subfertility in dairy cows, using a state- of-the-art endoscopic embryo transfer technique, we evidenced that the reproductive tract of the postpartum lactating dairy cow may be less capable of supporting early embryo development than that of the heifers, and this may contribute to the lower conception rates observed in such animals. In addition, heifers had a higher P4 concentration than lactating cows. It is known that P4 plays a key role in the reproductive events associated with pregnancy establishment and maintenance. Thus, we showed that administration of hCG as early as Day 2 after oestrus in the cow results in increased P4 in circulation from Day 6, which should have beneficial downstream effects in terms of uterine receptivity and conceptus elongation.

In addition, recently we initiated a new approach by transferring therapeutic embryos in repeat breeder cows. Both applications could constitute valuable strategies reducing early embryonic losses in high yielding dairy cows.

Our results will have a positive impact on fertility treatments in humans and reproductive efficiency in livestock species.

Main Scientific Collaborators

• Prof. María Encina González Martínez - Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España

• Prof. Dr. María Jesús Sánchez Calabuig - Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España

• Prof. Prof. Pat Lonergan - University College Dublín (UCD), Ireland

• Prof. Juliano da Silveira - Univestity of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil

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