Nuclear transfer experiments in mammals have attempted to reprogram a donor nucleus to a state equivalent to the zygotic one. Reprogramming of the donor nucleus is, among other features, indicated by a synthesis of ribosomal RNA (rRNA). The initiation of rRNA synthesis is simultaneously reflected in nuclear morphology as a transformation of the nucleolus precursor body into a functional rRNA synthesising nucleolus with a characteristic ultrastructure. We examined nucleolar ultrastructure in bovine in vitro produced (control) embryos and in nuclear transfer embryos reconstructed from a MII phase (nonactivated) or S phase (activated) cytoplasts. Control embryos were fixed at the two-, four-, early eight- and late eight-cell stages; nuclear transfer embryos were fixed at 1 and 3 hr post fusion and at the two-, four-, and eight-cell stages. Control embryos possessed a nucleolar precursor body throughout all three cell cycles. In the eight-cell stage embryo, a primary vacuole appeared as an electron lucid area originating in the centre of the nucleolar precursor body. In nuclear transfer embryos reconstructed from nonactivated cytoplasts, the nuclear envelope was fragmented or completely broken down at 1 hr after fusion and, by 3 hr after fusion, it was restored again. At this time, the reticulated fibrillo-granular nucleolus had an almost round shape. The nucleolar precursor body seen in the two-cell stage nuclear transfer embryos consisted of intermingled filamentous components and secondary vacuoles. A nucleolar precursor body typical for the two-cell stage control embryos was never observed. None of the reconstructed embryos of this group reached the eight-cell stage. Nuclear transfer embryos reconstructed from activated cytoplasts, in contrast, exhibited a complete nuclear envelope at all time intervals after fusion. In the two-cell stage nuclear transfer embryo, the originally reticulated nucleolus of the donor blastomere had changed into a typical nucleolar precursor body consisting of a homogeneous fibrillar structure. A primary vacuole appeared in the four-cell stage nuclear transfer embryos, which was one cell cycle earlier than in control embryos. Only nuclear transfer embryos reconstructed from activated cytoplasts underwent complete remodelling of the nucleolus. The reorganisation of the donor nucleolar architecture into a functionally active nucleolus was observed as early as in the four-cell stage nuclear transfer embryo. These ultrastructural observations were correlated with our autoradiographic data on the initiation of RNA synthesis in nuclear transfer embryos.
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