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Darren K Griffin and Cagri Ogur

Designed to minimize chances of transferring genetically abnormal embryos, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) involves in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryo biopsy, diagnosis and selective embryo transfer. Preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A) aims to avoid miscarriage and live born trisomic offspring and to improve IVF success. Diagnostic approaches include fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and more contemporary comprehensive chromosome screening (CCS) including array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH), quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR), next-generation sequencing (NGS) and karyomapping. NGS has an improved dynamic range, and karyomapping can detect chromosomal and monogenic disorders simultaneously. Mosaicism (commonplace in human embryos) can arise by several mechanisms; those arising initially meiotically (but with a subsequent post-zygotic ‘trisomy rescue’ event) usually lead to adverse outcomes, whereas the extent to which mosaics that are initially chromosomally normal (but then arise purely post-zygotically) can lead to unaffected live births is uncertain. Polar body (PB) biopsy is the least common sampling method, having drawbacks including cost and inability to detect any paternal contribution. Historically, cleavage-stage (blastomere) biopsy has been the most popular; however, higher abnormality levels, mosaicism and potential for embryo damage have led to it being superseded by blastocyst (trophectoderm – TE) biopsy, which provides more cells for analysis. Improved biopsy, diagnosis and freeze-all strategies collectively have the potential to revolutionize PGT-A, and there is increasing evidence of their combined efficacy. Nonetheless, PGT-A continues to attract criticism, prompting questions of when we consider the evidence base sufficient to justify routine PGT-A? Basic biological research is essential to address unanswered questions concerning the chromosome complement of human embryos, and we thus entreat companies, governments and charities to fund more. This will benefit both IVF patients and prospective parents at risk of aneuploid offspring following natural conception. The aim of this review is to appraise the ‘state of the art’ in terms of PGT-A, including the controversial areas, and to suggest a practical ‘way forward’ in terms of future diagnosis and applied research.

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The authors performed therapeutic donor insemination in 219 women. In 114 cases, 132 conceptions were obtained. The average number of inseminations for one conception was 3·8. More than half of the women in the `unsuccessful' subgroup did not exhaust the therapeutic possibilities of this treatment, i.e. aid extending over the period of five to six cycles. Seventeen losses in pregnancy, or within 10 days after delivery, correspond to less than 13%. One boy out of 108 living children (fifty boys and fifty-eight girls) had a developmental anomaly (penile hypospadias).

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J. M. Wallace, J. J. Robinson, and R. P. Aitken

Summary. After lambing in late November, oestrus and ovulation were induced by using a CIDR device and PMSG in early weaned (N = 13) or lactating (N = 14) Border Leicester × Scottish Blackface ewes between 23 and 29 days after parturition. Ewes were intrauterine inseminated under laparoscopic visualization 54–55 h after CIDR-device withdrawal and eggs recovered on Day 3 of the cycle. Ovum recovery and fertilization rates were higher in lactating than in early weaned ewes, with fertilization being achieved as early as 24 days post partum in both groups. Of the 7 early weaned and 11 lactating ewes yielding eggs, fertilization occurred in 4 and 7 ewes respectively. A total of 20 embryos were transferred to the normal uterine environment of 15 recipient ewes in which the interval from parturition was > 150 days. Pregnancies were successfully established in 9 recipient ewes, resulting in the birth of 10 viable lambs.

Prolactin concentrations were significantly higher (P < 0·001) in lactating than in early weaned ewes throughout the study. Nevertheless, normal luteal function (as assessed by daily progesterone concentrations) was exhibited by 12 of 14 lactating and 8 of 13 early weaned ewes. Two post-partum donors in which the corpora lutea completely failed to secrete progesterone yielded fertilized eggs which developed to term when transferred to a normal uterine environment.

The results show that sheep oocytes can be fertilized using laparoscopic intrauterine insemination as early as 24 days after parturition and that the resulting embryos are viable when recovered on Day 3 after oestrus and transferred to a normal uterine environment.

Keywords: post partum; fertilization; embryo viability; pregnancy; sheep

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Alan H Handyside

The first pregnancies and live births following in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and preimplantation genetic testing (PGT), formerly known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, were reported in 1990, almost 30 years ago, in several couples at risk of X-linked inherited conditions, which typically only affect boys inheriting the X chromosome with the affected gene from their carrier mothers. At that time, it was only possible to identify the sex of the embryo by amplifying a Y-linked repeat sequence in single cells biopsied at cleavage stages and avoid the transfer of males, half of which would be affected. The extensive publicity surrounding these cases and the perceived risk of using IVF and PGT for desirable characteristics not related to health, such as sex selection, led to the epithet of ‘designer babies’ which continues to resonate to this day. Here, I briefly reflect on how the technology of PGT has evolved over the decades and whether it deserves this reputation. With efficient methods for whole genome amplification and the genomic revolution, we now have highly accurate universal tests that combine marker-based diagnosis of almost any monogenic disorder with the detection of aneuploidy. PGT is now clinically well established and is likely to remain a valuable alternative for couples at risk of having affected children.

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Jens Ehmcke and Stefan Schlatt

Fertility preservation in the male is routinely focused on sperm. In clinical and veterinary settings, cryopreservation of sperm is a widely used tool. However, the goals for male fertility preservation differ between experimental models, maintenance of livestock, conservation of rare species, and fertility protection in men. Therefore very different approaches exist, which are adapted to the specialized needs for each discipline. Novel tools for male fertility preservation are explored targeting immature germ cells in embryonic or immature testes. Many options might be developed to combine germline preservation and generation of sperm ex vivo leading to interesting new perspectives. This review highlights current and future options for male fertility preservation with a special focus on animal models and a consideration of the various disciplines in need of novel tools.

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Imene Boumela, Said Assou, Abdel Aouacheria, Delphine Haouzi, Hervé Dechaud, John De Vos, Alan Handyside, and Samir Hamamah

In women, up to 99.9% of the oocyte stockpile formed during fetal life is decimated by apoptosis. Apoptotic features are also detected in human preimplantation embryos both in vivo and in vitro. Despite the important consequences of cell death processes to oocyte competence and early embryonic development, little is known about its genetic and molecular control. B cell lymphoma-2 (BCL2) family proteins are major regulators of cell death and survival. Here, we present a literature review on BCL2 family expression and protein distribution in human and animal oocytes and early embryos. Most of the studies focused on the expression of two antagonistic members: the founding and survival family member BCL2 and its proapoptotic homolog BAX. However, recent transcriptomic analyses have identified novel candidate genes related to oocyte and/or early embryonic viability (such as BCL2L10) or commitment to apoptosis (e.g. BIK). Interestingly, some BCL2 proteins appear to be differentially distributed at the subcellular level during oocyte maturation and early embryonic development, a process probably linked to the functional compartmentalization of the ooplasm and blastomere. Assessment of BCL2 family involvement in regulating the survival of human oocytes and embryos may be of particular value for diagnosis and assisted reproductive technology. We suggest that implications of not only aberrant gene expression but also abnormal subcellular protein redistribution should be established in pathological conditions resulting in infertility.

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R Gosden and M Nagano

Individuals may regard reproduction as optional but sufficient number of them must be productive to perpetuate the species. The reproductive system is surprisingly vulnerable and depends, among other things, on a limited endowment of oocytes, controlled proliferation of spermatogonial stem cells and the genetic integrity of both. The developmental competence of oocytes and spermatogonial stem cells is maintained by evolved mechanisms for cellular detoxification and genomic stability, and excess or damaged cells are eliminated by apoptosis. Gonadal failure as a result of germ cell depletion can occur at any age, and from the effects of chemical cytotoxicity, disease and infection as well as genetic predisposition. Among extrinsic factors, alkylating agents and ionizing radiation are important causes of iatrogenic gonadal failure in young women and men. In animal models, there is evidence that hormonal manipulation, deletion of genes involved in apoptotic pathways and dietary manipulation can protect against natural and induced germ cell loss, but evidence in humans is absent or unclear. Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) provide an ensemble of strategies for preserving fertility in patients and commercially valuable or endangered species. Semen cryopreservation was the first technology for preserving male fertility, but this cannot serve prepubertal boys, for whom banking of testicular biopsies may provide a future option. In sterilized rodents, cryopreserved spermatogonial stem cells can recolonize seminiferous tubules and reinitiate spermatogenesis, and subcutaneous implantation of intact tubules can generate spermatozoa for fertilization in vitro by intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Transplantation of frozen-banked ovarian tissue is well-established for restoring cyclicity and fertility and is currently undergoing clinical evaluation for cancer patients. When restoration of natural fertility is unnecessary or reimplantation is unsafe, it is desirable to culture the germ cells from thawed tissue in vitro until they reach the stage at which they can be fertilized. Low temperature banking of immature germ cells is potentially very versatile, but storage of embryos and, to a lesser extent, mature oocytes is already practised in a number of species, including humans, and is likely to remain a mainstay for fertility preservation.

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K. D. Sinclair, T. G. McEvoy, E. K. Maxfield, C. A. Maltin, L. E. Young, I. Wilmut, P. J. Broadbent, and J. J. Robinson

The effects of in vitro culture systems for sheep zygotes on subsequent fetal growth and development to day 61 and day 125 of gestation were studied. Zygotes recovered from superovulated Scottish Blackface ewes approximately 36 h after intrauterine insemination using semen from a single Suffolk sire were cultured for 5 days in (a) a granulosa cell co-culture system (co-culture); (b) synthetic oviductal fluid medium without serum (SOF−); and (c) synthetic oviductal fluid medium supplemented with human serum (SOF+). Control embryos were recovered from superovulated donor ewes at day 6 after oestrus. Embryos were transferred at day 6 to synchronous Scottish Blackface recipient ewes. In total, 146 gravid uteri were recovered, comprising 97 at day 61 (20 co-culture, 27 SOF−, 25 SOF+ and 25 control) and 49 at day 125 (13 co-culture, 8 SOF−, 6 SOF+ and 22 control) of gestation. Fetuses derived from co-cultured embryos were 14% heavier (P < 0.01) by day 61 of gestation than those derived from control embryos. Growth coefficients derived from the linear allometric equation loge y = loge a + b loge x (where y = organ mass; x = fetal mass) were significantly greater (P < 0.05) for liver, heart, kidneys and plantaris muscle in fetuses derived from co-cultured embryos, and for liver in fetuses derived from SOF+ embryos than those for control fetuses. Fetuses derived from co-cultured embryos were 34% heavier (P < 0.001) and fetuses derived from SOF+ embryos were 18% heavier (P < 0.01) by day 125 of gestation than those derived from control embryos. Growth coefficients for liver and heart for fetuses derived from co-culture and SOF+ embryos were also significantly greater (P < 0.05) at this stage of gestation than those for control group fetuses. In contrast, allometric coefficients for these organs in fetuses derived from embryos cultured in SOF without serum supplementation were not different from those for controls. Excessive volumes of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) were observed in 23% of conceptuses derived from co-cultured embryos. In vitro embryo culture can significantly influence fetal growth and this study provides quantitative evidence of major shifts in the patterns of organ and tissue development.

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Fernando A Rivera, Luís G D Mendonça, Gláucio Lopes Jr, José E P Santos, Rolando V Perez, Marcel Amstalden, Abelardo Correa-Calderón, and Ricardo C Chebel

Fertility of lactating dairy cows is associated with reduced progesterone (P4) concentration compared with nonlactating animals. The objective of the current study was to determine whether P4 during growth of the first follicular wave (FFW) affects embryo quality. Lactating Holstein cows at 33±3 days post partum were allocated to one of three treatments. Cows in the FFW and FFW with P4 (FFWP) treatments started the superstimulation protocol on day 1 of the estrous cycle and second follicular wave (SFW) cows started the superstimulation protocol on estrous cycle day 7. Cows were superstimulated with 400 mg of NIH-FSH-P1 (FSH) given twice daily for 5 days, two prostaglandin F (PGF) injections given with the ninth and tenth injections of FSH, GNRH given 48 h after the first PGF injection, and timed insemination 12 and 24 h after the GNRH injection. Cows in the FFWP treatment received two intravaginal P4 inserts during the superstimulation. Embryos were recovered 6.5 days after artificial insemination and excellent/good and fair embryos were frozen and transferred. Blood was sampled daily from estrous cycle day 0 until insemination from donor cows. During the superstimulation protocol, P4 was (P<0.01) greatest for SFW cows followed by FFWP and FFW cows respectively. The percentage of embryos–oocytes from SFW and FFWP cows classified as excellent/good and fair embryos was (P=0.02) greater than those of FFW cows. Pregnancy per embryo transfer was not (P≥0.73) affected by embryo donor treatment. Reduced embryo quality of cows induced to ovulate the follicles from the first follicular wave is a consequence of reduced P4 during follicle growth.