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Changes in the transcriptome of morula-stage bovine embryos caused by heat shock: relationship to developmental acquisition of thermotolerance

Miki Sakatani1, Luciano Bonilla26, Kyle B Dobbs2, Jeremy Block23, Manabu Ozawa24, Savita Shanker5, JiQiang Yao5 and Peter J Hansen2*

Author Affiliations

1 Kyushu-Okinawa Agricultural Research Center, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, Kumamoto, 861-1192, Japan

2 Department of Animal Sciences, D.H. Barron Reproductive and Perinatal Biology Research Program, and Genetics Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611-0910, USA

3 Ovatech LLC, Gainesville Florida, FL, 32608, USA

4 Laboratory of Developmental Genetics, Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

5 Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32610, USA

6 Present address: Minitube International Center for Biotechnology, Mt. Horeb, WI, 53572, USA

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Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 2013, 11:3  doi:10.1186/1477-7827-11-3

Published: 15 January 2013



While initially sensitive to heat shock, the bovine embryo gains thermal resistance as it progresses through development so that physiological heat shock has little effect on development to the blastocyst stage by Day 5 after insemination. Here, experiments using 3’ tag digital gene expression (3’DGE) and real-time PCR were conducted to determine changes in the transcriptome of morula-stage bovine embryos in response to heat shock (40 degrees C for 8 h) that could be associated with thermotolerance.


Using 3’DGE, expression of 173 genes were modified by heat shock, with 94 genes upregulated by heat shock and 79 genes downregulated by heat shock. A total of 38 differentially-regulated genes were associated with the ubiquitin protein, UBC. Heat shock increased expression of one heat shock protein gene, HSPB11, and one heat shock protein binding protein, HSPBP1, tended to increase expression of HSPA1A and HSPB1, but did not affect expression of 64 other genes encoding heat shock proteins, heat shock transcription factors or proteins interacting with heat shock proteins. Moreover, heat shock increased expression of five genes associated with oxidative stress (AKR7A2, CBR1, GGH, GSTA4, and MAP2K5), decreased expression of HIF3A, but did not affect expression of 42 other genes related to free radical metabolism. Heat shock also had little effect on genes involved in embryonic development. Effects of heat shock for 2, 4 and 8 h on selected heat shock protein and antioxidant genes were also evaluated by real-time PCR. Heat shock increased steady-state amounts of mRNA for HSPA1A (P<0.05) and tended to increase expression of HSP90AA1 (P<0.07) but had no effect on expression of SOD1 or CAT.


Changes in the transcriptome of the heat-shocked bovine morula indicate that the embryo is largely resistant to effects of heat shock. As a result, transcription of genes involved in thermal protection is muted and there is little disruption of gene networks involved in embryonic development. It is likely that the increased resistance of morula-stage embryos to heat shock as compared to embryos at earlier stages of development is due in part to developmental acquisition of mechanisms to prevent accumulation of denatured proteins and free radical damage.