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Retinoids are recognized as important regulators of vertebrate development, cell differentiation, and tissue function. Previous studies, performed both in vivo and in vitro, indicate that retinoids influence several reproductive events, including follicular development, oocyte maturation and early embryonic development. The present study evaluated in vitro effects of retinol addition to media containing maturing bovine oocytes and developing embryos in both a low oxygen atmosphere (7%) and under atmospheric oxygen conditions (20%). In the first experiment, abbatoir collected bovine oocytes were matured in the presence or absence of varying concentrations of retinol. After a 22–24 hour maturation period the oocytes were fertilized, denuded 18 hours later and cultured in a modified synthetic oviductal fluid (mSOF) in a humidified atmosphere at 38.5 degrees C, 5% CO2, 7% O2 and 88% N2. Cleavage rates did not differ among control and retinol-treated oocytes in all three experiments. Addition of 5 micromolar retinol to the maturation medium (IVM) tended (p < 0.07) to increase blastocyst formation (blastocyst/putative zygote; 26.1% +/- 2.2%) compared to the controls (21.9% +/- 1.9%). Further analysis revealed when blastocyst development rates fell below 20% in the control groups, 5 micromolar retinol treatment dramatically improved embryonic development, measured by blastocyst/putative zygote rate (14.4 +/- 2.1 vs 23.7 +/- 2.5; p < 0.02). The 5 micomolar retinol treatment also enhanced the blastocyst/cleaved rate by nearly 10% (23.7% vs 34.6%; p < 0.02). In the second and third experiments addition of 5 micromolar retinol to the embryo culture medium (IVC) under low oxygen conditions did not significantly improve cleavage or blastocyst rates, but 5 micromolar retinol significantly increased blastocyst development under 20% O2 conditions (p < 0.001). These studies demonstrate that supplementation of 5 micromolar retinol to the maturation medium may improve embryonic development of bovine oocytes indicated by their increased blastocyst rate. A significant improvement in the blastocyst development with the 5 micromolar retinol treatment under atmospheric conditions suggests a beneficial antioxidant effect during embryo culture.

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