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Theriogenology. 2012 Mar 1;77(4):766-72. doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2011.11.010. Epub 2012 Jan 3.

Parthenogenesis in non-rodent species: developmental competence and differentiation plasticity.

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  • 1Unistem, Centre for Stem Cell Research, Laboratory of Biomedical Embryology, Universit√† degli Studi di Milano, Italy.


An oocyte can activate its developmental process without the intervention of the male counterpart. This form of reproduction, known as parthenogenesis, occurs spontaneously in a variety of lower organisms, but not in mammals. However, it must be noted that mammalian oocytes can be activated in vitro, mimicking the intracellular calcium wave induced by the spermatozoon at fertilization, which triggers cleavage divisions and embryonic development. The resultant parthenotes are not capable of developing to term and arrest their growth at different stages, depending on the species. It is believed that this arrest is due to genomic imprinting, which causes the repression of genes normally expressed by the paternal allele. Human parthenogenetic embryos have recently been proposed as an alternative, less controversial source of embryonic stem cell lines, based on their inherent inability to form a new individual. However many aspects related to the biology of parthenogenetic embryos and parthenogenetically derived cell lines still need to be elucidated. Limited information is available in particular on the consequences of the lack of centrioles and on the parthenote's ability to assemble a new embryonic centrosome in the absence of the sperm centriole. Indeed, in lower species, successful parthenogenesis largely depends upon the oocyte's ability to regenerate complete and functional centrosomes in the absence of the material supplied by a male gamete, while the control of this event appears to be less stringent in mammalian cells. In an attempt to better elucidate some of these aspects, parthenogenetic cell lines, recently derived in our laboratory, have been characterized for their pluripotency. In vitro and in vivo differentiation plasticity have been assessed, demonstrating the ability of these cells to differentiate into cell types derived from the three germ layers. These results confirmed common features between uni- and bi-parental embryonic stem cells. However data obtained with parthenogenetic cells indicate the presence of an intrinsic deregulation of the mechanisms controlling proliferation vs. differentiation and suggest their uni-parental origin as a possible cause.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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