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Semin Reprod Med. 2008 Mar;26(2):175-85. doi: 10.1055/s-2008-1042956.

The preimplantation embryo: handle with care.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton, United Kingdom.


The past decade has seen considerable advances in our understanding of intrinsic developmental mechanisms associated with gametogenesis and embryogenesis and accompanying applications in the fields of reproductive medicine, embryonic stem cell biology, and nuclear reprogramming. However, a new focus has recently emerged concerning the homeostatic regulation of embryonic cells, how this is set, and how it may influence the longitudinal progression and optimization of the developmental program and indeed the phenotype of the offspring. Attention has been drawn to the preimplantation stage of development as a sensitive "window" when in vitro and in vivo manipulations, such as culture conditions or maternal diet, may have critical consequences. In this article, we review how changes in environmental conditions, mediated via a range of epigenetic, cellular, and metabolic mechanisms in the preimplantation embryo, may alter the pattern of cell division, gene expression, morphology, and potential. We consider how fetal and postnatal phenotype may become susceptible to the plasticity of the preimplantation embryo and the risks for adult health and physiology.

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