The preimplantation embryo: handle with care

Adam J. Watkins, Tom Papenbrock, Tom P. Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The past decade has seen considerable advances in our understanding of intrinsic developmental mechanisms associated with gametogenesis and embryogenesis and accompanying applications in the fields of reproductive medicine, embryonic stem cell biology, and nuclear reprogramming. However, a new focus has recently emerged concerning the homeostatic regulation of embryonic cells, how this is set, and how it may influence the longitudinal progression and optimization of the developmental program and indeed the phenotype of the offspring. Attention has been drawn to the preimplantation stage of development as a sensitive "window" when in vitro and in vivo manipulations, such as culture conditions or maternal diet, may have critical consequences. In this article, we review how changes in environmental conditions, mediated via a range of epigenetic, cellular, and metabolic mechanisms in the preimplantation embryo, may alter the pattern of cell division, gene expression, morphology, and potential. We consider how fetal and postnatal phenotype may become susceptible to the plasticity of the preimplantation embryo and the risks for adult health and physiology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-185
Number of pages11
JournalSeminars in Reproductive Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008


  • epigenetics
  • gene expression
  • in vitro culture
  • maternal diet
  • preimplantation embryo


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