The aim of our study was to examine whether: (1) the exposure of bovine embryos to the BHV-1 virus in vitro can compromise their further development and alter the ultrastructural morphology of cellular organelles; (2) whether the zona pellucida (ZP) can be a barrier protecting embryos against infection; and (3) whether washing with trypsin after viral exposure can prevent virus penetration inside the embryo and subsequent virus-induced damages. The embryos were recovered from superovulated Holstein-Friesian donor cows on day 6 of the estrous cycle. Only compact morulas or early blastocysts were selected for experiments with virus incubation. We used the embryos either with intact ZP (either with or without trypsin washing) or embryos in which the ZP barrier was avoided by using the microinjection of a BHV-1 suspension under the ZP. ZP-intact embryos (n = 153) were exposed to BHV-1 at 106.16 TCID50/ml for 60 min, then washed in trypsin according to IETS guidelines and postincubated in synthetic oviduct fluid (SOF) medium for 48 h. Some of the embryos (n = 36) were microinjected with 20 pl of BHV-1 suspension under the ZP, the embryos were washed in SOF medium and cultured for 48 h. Embryo development was evaluated by morphological inspection, the presence of viral particles was determined both immunocytochemically, using fluorescent anti-IBR–FITC conjugate and by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) on the basis of the ultrastructure of the cellular organelles.
It was found that BHV-1 exposure impairs embryo development to higher preimplantation stages independent of the presence of the ZP or the trypsin treatment step, as most of the embryos were arrested at the morula stage when compared with the control. Immunofluorescence analysis confirmed the presence of BHV-1 particles in about 75% of embryos that were passed through the trypsin treatment and in all the BHV-1-microinjected embryos. Ultrastructural analysis, using TEM, revealed the presence of virus-like particles inside the BHV-1-exposed embryos, where the trypsin washing step was omitted. Conversely, in trypsin-treated BHV-1-exposed embryos, TEM detected only the envelope-free virus-like particles adhered to pores of the ZP. The embryos that were microinjected with BHV-1 suspension showed the presence of BHV-1 particles, as well as ultrastructural alterations in cell organelles. Taken together these findings may suggest that BHV-1 infection compromises preimplantation development of bovine embryos in vitro and therefore the ZP may not be enough on its own to prevent virus-induced damage, unless it is not accompanied with trypsin washing.