Development of Decellularized Oviductal Hydrogels as a Support for Rabbit Embryo Culture

Frances-Herrero, E, De Miguel-Gomez, L, Lopez-Martinez, S, Campo, H, Garcia-Dominguez, X, Diretto, G, Faus, A, Vicente, J S, Marco-Jimenez, F, Cervello, I,
Reprod Sci. Jan. 2021 doi: 10.1007/s43032-020-00446-6


The oviducts (fallopian tubes in mammals) function as the site of fertilization and provide necessary support for early embryonic development, mainly via embryonic exposure to the tubal microenvironment. The main objective of this study was to create an oviduct-specific extracellular matrix (oviECM) hydrogel rich in bioactive components that mimics the native environment, thus optimizing the developmental trajectories of cultured embryos. Rabbit oviducts were decellularized through SDS treatment and enzymatic digestion, and the acellular tissue was converted into oviductal pre-gel extracellular matrix (ECM) solutions. Incubation of these solutions at 37 degrees C resulted in stable hydrogels with a fibrous structure based on scanning electron microscopy. Histological staining, DNA quantification and colorimetric assays confirmed that the decellularized tissue and hydrogels contained no cellular or nuclear components but retained important components of the ECM, e.g. hyaluronic acid, glycoproteins and collagens. To evaluate the ability of oviECM hydrogels to maintain early embryonic development, two-cell rabbit embryos were cultured on oviECM-coated surfaces and compared to those cultured with standard techniques. Embryo development was similar in both conditions, with 95.9% and 98% of the embryos reaching the late morula/early blastocyst stage by 48 h under standard culture and oviECM conditions, respectively. Metabolomic analysis of culture media in the presence or absence of embryos, however, revealed that the oviECM coating may include signalling molecules and release compounds beneficial to embryo metabolism.