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Transgenic Res. 2011 Apr;20(2):283-92. doi: 10.1007/s11248-010-9407-4. Epub 2010 Jun 8.

Reproductive abnormalities in mice expressing omega-3 fatty acid desaturase in their mammary glands.

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Department of Animal Science, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


The Caenorhabditis elegans n-3 fatty acid desaturase (Fat-1) acts on a range of 18- and 20-carbon n-6 fatty acid substrates. Transgenic female mice expressing the Fat-1 gene under transcriptional control of the goat β-casein promoter produce milk phospholipids having elevated levels of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). However, females from this line were also observed to have impaired reproductive performance characterized by a smaller litter size (2.7 ± 0.6 vs. 7.2 ± 0.7; P < 0.05) than wildtype controls. While there is a close association between PUFA metabolism, prostaglandin biosynthesis, and fertility; reproductive problems in these mice were unanticipated given that the Fat-1 transgene is primarily expressed in the lactating mammary gland. Using multiple approaches it was found that Fat-1 mice have normal ovulation and fertilization rates; however fewer embryos were present in the uterus prior to implantation. Small litter size was also found to be partly attributable to a high incidence of post-implantation fetal resorptions. Embryo transfer experiments revealed that embryos developing from oocytes derived from transgenic ovaries had an increased rate of post-implantation resorption, regardless of the uterine genotype. Ovary transplantation between Fat-1 and C57BL/6 wildtype females revealed that non-ovarian factors also contributed to the smaller litter size phenotype. Finally, surgical removal of the mammary glands from juvenile Fat-1 mice increased the subsequent number of implantation sites per female, but did not lessen the high rate of post-implantation resorptions. In conclusion, we herein report on a system where an exogenous transgene expressed predominately in the mammary gland detrimentally affects female reproduction, suggesting that in certain circumstances the mammary gland may function as an endocrine regulator of reproductive performance.

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