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Mol Hum Reprod. 1997 Dec;3(12):1067-86.

Oocyte influences on early development: the regulatory proteins leptin and STAT3 are polarized in mouse and human oocytes and differentially distributed within the cells of the preimplantation stage embryo.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder 80309, USA.


Unique protein domains, concentration gradients, and asymmetric protein distributions or polarities are principle forces establishing the identity and fate of individual cells during early development in lower vertebrates and invertebrates. Here, we present evidence that these same forces exist during mammalian development in the form of two representative regulatory proteins, leptin and STAT3. Leptin, the 16 kDa cytokine product of the obese gene (ob) is involved in the activation of STAT3, a member of the signal transducer and activation of transcription family of proteins. We examined the temporal and spatial aspects of leptin and STAT3 immunofluorescence in mouse and human oocytes and preimplantation stage embryos. The findings demonstrate that both leptin and STAT3 are polarized in the oocyte and, as a consequence of their location and the position of the cleavage planes with respect to these protein domains: (i) differences in allocation of these proteins between blastomeres occur at the first cell division such that by the 8-cell stage; (ii) unique cellular domains consisting of leptin/STAT3 rich and leptin/STAT3 poor populations of cells are generated. By the morula stage, a cell-borne concentration gradient of these proteins extending along the surface of the embryo is observed. A potential role of these proteins in early development is indicated at the morula stage where the 'inner' cells consist of blastomeres that contain little, if any, leptin/STAT3 while 'outer' cells contain both leptin/STAT3 rich and poor cells. This pattern persists through the hatched blastocyst stage with little, if any, leptin/STAT3 detected in the inner cell mass and populations of leptin/STAT3 rich and poor cells forming the trophoblast. We have examined oocytes from mutant C57BL/6J ob/ob mice which are both obese and infertile (although fertility can be restored by the exogenous provision of leptin) and have found STAT3 and the mutant (truncated) leptin protein to be present and polarized, suggesting the possibility that the truncated leptin protein may still contain operational domains which are functional during oocyte development and early embryogenesis. Furthermore, analysis of leptin and STAT3 in intact ovarian follicles suggests that these proteins may be maternally derived and in particular, that a subpopulation of follicle cells may be partly responsible for the establishment of their polarized distribution in the oocyte. The results are discussed with respect to the proposition that leptin and STAT3 have critical roles in early mammalian development, and may be involved in the determination of the animal pole of the oocyte and in the establishment of the inner cell mass and trophoblast in the preimplantation stage embryo.

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