Biological Systems Engineering



Jeremy R. Miles

Date of this Version



Mol Reprod Dev. 2017;84:775–787
DOI: 10.1002/mrd.22814


U.S. government work.


Appropriate embryonic and fetal development significantly impact pregnancy success and, therefore, the efficiency of swine production. The pre-implantation period of porcine pregnancy is characterized by several developmental hallmarks, which are initiated by the dramatic morphological change that occurs as pig blastocysts elongate from spherical to filamentous blastocysts. Deficiencies in blastocyst elongation contribute to approximately 20% of embryonic loss, and have a direct influence on within-litter birth weight variation. Although factors identified within the uterine environment may play a role in blastocyst elongation, little is known about the exact mechanisms by which porcine (or other species’) blastocysts initiate and progress through the elongation process. This is partly due to the difficulty of replicating elongation in vitro, which would allow for its study in a controlled environment and in real-time. We developed a three dimensional (3-D) culture system using alginate hydrogel matrices that can encapsulate pig blastocysts, maintain viability and blastocyst architecture, and facilitate reproducible morphological changes with corresponding expression of steroidogenic enzyme transcripts and estrogen production, consistent with the initiation of elongation in vivo. This review highlights key aspects of the pre-implantation period of porcine pregnancy and the difficulty of studying blastocyst elongation in vivo or by using in vitro systems. This review also provides insights on the utility of 3-D hydrogels to study blastocyst elongation continuously and in real-time as a complementary and confirmatory approach to in vivo analysis.