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This study evaluated whether trophoblastic tissue derived in vitro secretes factors that support bovine embryonic development in vitro. The embryotrophic activity of these secretions was analysed in three different culture conditions based on TCM-199: (I) in a routine culture system using cumulus cells and 10% oestrous cow serum; (2) without cells but with 10% oestrous cow serum; and (3) under serum-free conditions. Rates of development to the 5-8-cell and blastocyst stages, as well as numbers of inner cell mass and trophectoderm cells of blastocysts were determined. In the absence of cumulus cells, cleavage rates of 5-8-cell embryos were significantly (P < 0.05) higher in trophoblastic vesicle-conditioned medium than in TCM-199 in both the presence (71% versus 49%) and absence (70% versus 49%) of serum. Trophoblastic vesicle-conditioned medium had a significant (P < 0.05) positive effect on the rate of development to the blastocyst stage when compared with TCM-199 in the presence of cumulus cells and serum (39% versus 33%), only serum (26% versus 19%), or in the absence of cells and serum (21% versus 5%). The numbers of inner cell mass and trophectoderm cells, and total number of cells in blastocysts produced in the cumulus cell coculture system in serum-free trophoblastic vesicle-conditioned medium or TCM-199 supplemented with serum were greater than those of blastocysts produced without cumulus cells or serum. Fractionation of serum-free trophoblastic vesicle-conditioned medium by ultrafiltration (10 kDa cut off) confined the embryotrophic activity mainly to the low molecular mass fraction. This study shows that serum-free trophoblastic vesicle-conditioned medium contains potent embryotrophic factors which act in a complementary manner to those secreted by cumulus cells and those supplemented with serum and result in reliably high blastocyst rates in the range of 40%. Since contamination of trophoblastic vesicle-conditioned medium with serum proteins can be avoided, this medium may be a reasonable source for the purification of specific embryotrophic factors.