Mammalian preimplantation embryos are vulnerable to heat stress. However, the mechanisms by which maternal heat stress compromises embryonic development are unclear. We hypothesized that the loss of developmental competence in maternally heat-stressed embryos results from enhanced oxidative stress in the oviducts. In experiment 1, oviducts and zygotes were collected from mice that were heat-stressed at 35°C and 60% relative humidity for 12 h on the day of pregnancy as well as from control mice. The zygotes were cultured for 84 h to assess their development, and the H2O2 level, glutathione concentration, and free radical scavenging activity (FRSA) were measured in the oviduct. In experiment 2, zygotes were cultured for 22 h to reach the late G2 phase in the 2-cell stage, and Cdc2 activity was assessed using immunoblotting. A high percentage (87.6%) of control embryos developed to morulae or blastocysts, whereas the majority (67.4%) of the heat-stressed group arrested at the 2-cell stage. Although heat stress did not alter the FRSA or glutathione concentration in the oviducts, the H2O2 level (P < 0.01) and its ratio to the FRSA (P < 0.05) significantly increased in the heat-stressed group. The Cdc2 activation at the 2-cell stage, as shown by the ratio of the dephosphorylated form to the phosphorylated form, was evident in control embryos but absent in heat-stressed embryos, and the level was similar to that in embryos blocked at the 2-cell stage (positive control). These results indicate that maternal heat stress enhances oxidative stress in the oviducts and that loss of developmental competence in maternally heat-stressed embryos correlates with a defect in Cdc2 activity at the 2-cell stage.
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