Animal Reproduction (AR)
Animal Reproduction (AR)
Thematic Section: 39th Annual Meeting of the Association of Embryo Technology in Europe (AETE)

Lab partners: oocytes, embryos and company. A personal view on aspects of oocyte maturation and the development of monozygotic twins

Burkhard Meinecke; Sabine Meinecke-Tillmann

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The present review addresses the oocyte and the preimplantation embryo, and is intended to highlight the underlying principle of the “nature versus/and nurture” question. Given the diversity in mammalian oocyte maturation, this review will not be comprehensive but instead will focus on the porcine oocyte. Historically, oogenesis was seen as the development of a passive cell nursed and determined by its somatic compartment. Currently, the advanced analysis of the cross-talk between the maternal environment and the oocyte shows a more balanced relationship: Granulosa cells nurse the oocyte, whereas the latter secretes diffusible factors that regulate proliferation and differentiation of the granulosa cells. Signal molecules of the granulosa cells either prevent the precocious initiation of meiotic maturation or enable oocyte maturation following hormonal stimulation. A similar question emerges in research on monozygotic twins or multiples: In Greek and medieval times, twins were not seen as the result of the common course of nature but were classified as faults. This seems still valid today for the rare and until now mainly unknown genesis of facultative monozygotic twins in mammals. Monozygotic twins are unique subjects for studies of the conceptus-maternal dialogue, the intra-pair similarity and dissimilarity, and the elucidation of the interplay between nature and nurture. In the course of in vivo collections of preimplantation sheep embryos and experiments on embryo splitting and other microsurgical interventions we recorded observations on double blastocysts within a single zona pellucida, double inner cell masses in zona-enclosed blastocysts and double germinal discs in elongating embryos. On the basis of these observations we add some pieces to the puzzle of the post-zygotic genesis of monozygotic twins and on maternal influences on the developing conceptus.


oocyte maturation, soma-germ interactions, monozygotic twins, demi-embryos, maternal effects


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