An adjustment of sex ratio of offspring to the conditions present at conception is seen in many mammals including horses. This depends on preferential survival of male embryos under conditions of high energy intake. In several species, growth factors including insulin like growth factor (IGF)-1 have been shown to promote embryonic development by decreasing apoptosis and increasing cell proliferation. We hypothesized that sex-related differences in IGF-1 expression in equine embryos during the phase of maternal recognition of pregnancy might exist and thus contribute to preferential survival of embryos from either of both sexes under specific environmental conditions. Insulin like growth factor-1 mRNA expression of in vivo-produced equine embryos on different days of pregnancy (Day 8, N = 6; Day 10, N = 8; Day 12, N = 14) was analyzed. Insulin like growth factor-1 mRNA expression was evaluated by reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The sex of the embryo was determined by detection of X-inactivation specific transcript (Xist) RNA and equine sex determining region of the Y chromosome DNA. Embryos positive for Xist expression were classified as female, and Xist negative and equine sex determining region of the Y chromosome positive embryos were classified as male. From 28 embryos tested, 15 (54%) showed positive Xist expression and were thus classified as female. Insulin like growth factor-1 mRNA expression was influenced by sex (P = 0.01) but not by day of pregnancy (relative expression of IGF-1 in relation to β-actin, Day 8: male 5.1 ± 2.1, female 11.4; Day 10: male 5.2 ± 1.6, female 17.4 ± 6.7; Day 12: male 2.6 ± 0.3, female 11.6 ± 2.4). Results demonstrate an increased expression of IGF-1 in female equine embryos. Sex-related influences on expression of the IGF system are probably related to a gradual X chromosome inactivation.
Animals Blastocyst/metabolism* Embryo, Mammalian Female Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental* Gestational Age Horses/embryology* Horses/genetics Horses/metabolism Insulin-Like Growth Factor I/genetics* Insulin-Like Growth Factor I/metabolism Male Pregnancy Sex Characteristics* Sex Ratio Tissue Distribution X Chromosome Inactivation/physiology