Somatic cloning does not always result in ontogeny in mammals, and development is often associated with various abnormalities and embryo loss with a high frequency. This is considered to be due to aberrant gene expression resulting from epigenetic reprogramming errors. However, a fundamental question in this context is whether the developmental abnormalities reported to date are specific to somatic cloning. The aim of this study was to determine the stage of nuclear differentiation during development that leads to developmental abnormalities associated with embryo cloning. In order to address this issue, we reconstructed cloned embryos using four- and eight-cell embryos, morula embryos, inner cell mass (ICM) cells, and embryonic stem cells as donor nuclei and determined the occurrence of abnormalities such as developmental arrest and placentomegaly, which are common characteristics of all mouse somatic cell clones. The present analysis revealed that an acute decline in the full-term developmental competence of cloned embryos occurred with the use of four- and eight-cell donor nuclei (22.7% vs. 1.8%) in cases of standard embryo cloning and with morula and ICM donor nuclei (11.4% vs. 6.6%) in serial nuclear transfer. Histological observation showed abnormal differentiation and proliferation of trophoblastic giant cells in the placentae of cloned concepti derived from four-cell to ICM cell donor nuclei. Enlargement of placenta along with excessive proliferation of the spongiotrophoblast layer and glycogen cells was observed in the clones derived from morula embryos and ICM cells. These results revealed that irreversible epigenetic events had already started to occur at the four-cell stage. In addition, the expression of genes involved in placentomegaly is regulated at the blastocyst stage by irreversible epigenetic events, and it could not be reprogrammed by the fusion of nuclei with unfertilized oocytes. Hence, developmental abnormalities such as placentomegaly as well as embryo loss during development may occur even in cloned embryos reconstructed with nuclei from preimplantation-stage embryos, and these abnormalities are not specific to somatic cloning.
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