Infertility in dairy cattle is a concern where reduced fertilization rates and high embryonic loss are contributing factors. Studies of the paternal contribution to reproductive performance are limited. However, recent discoveries have shown that, in addition to DNA, sperm delivers transcription factors and epigenetic components that are required for fertilization and proper embryonic development. Hence, characterization of the paternal contribution at the time of fertilization is warranted. We hypothesized that sire fertility is associated with differences in DNA methylation patterns in sperm and that the embryonic transcriptomic profiles are influenced by the fertility status of the bull. Embryos were generated in vitro by fertilization with either a high or low fertility Holstein bull. Blastocysts derived from each high and low fertility bulls were evaluated for morphology, development, and transcriptomic analysis using RNA-Sequencing. Additionally, DNA methylation signatures of sperm from high and low fertility sires were characterized by performing whole-genome DNA methylation binding domain sequencing.
Embryo morphology and developmental capacity did not differ between embryos generated from either a high or low fertility bull. However, RNA-Sequencing revealed 98 genes to be differentially expressed at a false discovery rate < 1%. A total of 65 genes were upregulated in high fertility bull derived embryos, and 33 genes were upregulated in low fertility derived embryos. Expression of the genes CYCS, EEA1, SLC16A7, MEPCE, and TFB2M was validated in three new pairs of biological replicates of embryos. The role of the differentially expressed gene TFB2M in embryonic development was further assessed through expression knockdown at the zygotic stage, which resulted in decreased development to the blastocyst stage. Assessment of the epigenetic signature of spermatozoa between high and low fertility bulls revealed 76 differentially methylated regions.
Despite similar morphology and development to the blastocyst stage, preimplantation embryos derived from high and low fertility bulls displayed significant transcriptomic differences. The relationship between the paternal contribution and the embryonic transcriptome is unclear, although differences in methylated regions were identified which could influence the reprogramming of the early embryo. Further characterization of paternal factors delivered to the oocyte could lead to the identification of biomarkers for better selection of sires to improve reproductive efficiency.