Bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV-8), which caused an epidemic in ruminants in central Western Europe in 2006 and 2007, seems to differ from other bluetongue serotypes in that it can spread transplacentally and has been associated with an increased incidence of abortion and other reproductive problems. For these reasons, and also because BTV-8 is threatening to spread to other parts of the world, there is a need for more information on the consequences of infection during pregnancy. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether hatched (i.e. zona pellucida-free) in vitro produced bovine blastocysts at 8-9 days post insemination are susceptible to BTV-8 and whether such infection induces cell death as indicated by apoptosis. Exposure of hatched in vitro produced bovine blastocysts for 1 h to a medium containing 10(3.8) or 10(4.9) TCID50 of the virus resulted in active viral replication in between 25 and 100% of the cells at 72 h post exposure. The infected blastocysts also showed growth arrest as evidenced by lower total cell numbers and a significant level of cellular apoptosis. We conclude from this in vitro study that some of the reproductive problems that are reported when cattle herds are infected with BTV-8 may be attributed to direct infection of blastocysts and other early-stage embryos in utero.