Effect of pentobarbital as a euthanasia agent on equine in vitro embryo production

Soledad Martin-Pelaez, Zachary Rabow, Alejandro de la Fuente, Peyton Draheim, Alan Loynachan, Oliver Fiehn, Stuart Meyers, Candace Lyman, Pouya Dini

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Postmortem and pre-euthanasia oocyte retrieval provides the last opportunity to preserve the genetic material in mares. Pentobarbital (PB) is the most common euthanasia agent; however, its effect on the developmental competence of oocytes has not been determined. Here, we evaluated the concentration of PB in equine follicular fluid (FF) and investigated its effect on the developmental competence of oocytes using a bovine IVF model to overcome the low availability of equine oocytes. The concentration of PB was measured by gas-chromatography/mass-spectrometry in FF collected from mare ovaries immediately after euthanasia (n = 10), 24 h post-euthanasia (n = 10), and from the ovaries collected by ovariectomy (negative control; n = 10). The serum concentration of PB was also evaluated as a positive control. PB was detected in all FF samples with an average concentration of 56.5 μg/ml. Next, bovine cumulus-oocyte complexes (COC) were held in holding media with PB for 6 h at 60 μg/ml (H60, n = 196), 164 μg/ml (H164, n = 215) or without PB (control; n = 212). After holding, the oocytes were matured and fertilized in vitro, followed by in vitro culture to the blastocyst stage. The cumulus expansion grade, cleavage rate, blastocyst rate, embryo kinetic rate and the blastocyst cell numbers were compared among the experimental groups of bovine COC. Higher rates of Grade 1 cumulus expansion were found in controls (54%, 32–76%; median, min-max) in comparison to H60 and H164 (24%,11–33% and 13%, 8–44%; P < 0.001). The cleavage rate was higher in the controls than in H164 (64% vs. 44%; P < 0.01). Blastocyst rates (blastocyst/cleaved oocytes) and total cell number were not different among the groups (control 29%, H60 25%, and H164 24%). In a preliminary study, equine oocytes (n = 28) were exposed to PB in vitro for 6 h followed by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and in vitro embryo production. Exposed oocytes showed a numerically lower maturation rate (43% Vs 52%; P > 0.05) in comparison to the laboratory-established rate during the same timepoints. Overall, we showed that PB reaches the FF immediately after euthanasia, exposing oocytes to this drug. This exposure affected cumulus expansion and cleavage rates in a bovine model, suggesting initial damage caused by PB that may not completely impede the formation of embryos, although lower overall embryo numbers might be obtained.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Jul 15 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Embryo
  • Euthanasia
  • Gamete retrieval
  • ICSI
  • IVP
  • Mare
  • Pentobarbital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Small Animals
  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Equine


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