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Loro L Kujjo and Gloria I Perez

Maternal aging adversely affects oocyte quality (function and developmental potential) and consequently lowers pregnancy rates while increasing spontaneous abortions. Substantial evidence, especially from egg donation studies, implicates the decreased quality of an aging oocyte as a major factor in the etiology of female infertility. Nevertheless, the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for the decreased oocyte quality with advanced maternal aging are not fully characterized. Herein we present information in the published literature and our own data to support the hypothesis that during aging induced decreases in mitochondrial ceramide levels and associated alterations in mitochondrial structure and function are prominent elements contributing to reduced oocyte quality. Hence, by examining the molecular determinants that underlie impairments in oocyte mitochondria, we expect to sieve to a better understanding of the mechanistic anatomy of oocyte aging.

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A. A. Templeton, P. Van Look, R. E. Angell, R. J. Aitken, M. A. Lumsden, and D. T. Baird

Summary. Volunteer women requesting laparoscopic sterilization were subjected to a fixed schedule of ovulation induction and oocyte recovery. Follicle aspiration was carried out in four groups: those to whom hCG was not administered and 12, 24 or 36 h respectively after the administration of hCG. For each group oocytes were cultured in vitro for 42 h, 30 h, 18 h and 6 h respectively, before insemination with donor spermatozoa. Oocyte recovery rates improved with longer hCG-to-recovery intervals (36% with no hCG to 81% 36 h after hCG). Although there was a slight reduction in fertilization rates when oocytes were not exposed to hCG in the follicle, normal cleavage was noted in more than 50% of oocytes in all four groups. It therefore appears that the final maturation stages of the human oocyte are not dependent on the midcycle gonadotrophin surge, provided the oocyte is matured in vitro before insemination. However, it was also evident that the fertilization rates were reduced when oocytes were removed from less mature follicles, as reflected by high androstenedione/ oestradiol ratios.

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K Hardy, C Wright, S Rice, M Tachataki, R Roberts, D Morgan, S Spanos, and D Taylor

The advent of human in vitro fertilization (IVF) over 30 years ago has made the oocyte and preimplantation embryo uniquely accessible. This accessibility has given rise to new micromanipulation techniques, such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection for treatment of male infertility, as well as embryo biopsy for preimplantation diagnosis of both genetic disease and aneuploidy, a major cause of early embryo demise and miscarriage. In the UK, average pregnancy rates after IVF and embryo transfer are < 25%, even after transfer of several embryos. Unfortunately, a third of these pregnancies involve multiple gestations. Research is currently focusing on methods to improve IVF success rates while reducing twin and triplet pregnancies and their associated increased morbidity and mortality. One approach is to develop screening methods to identify the most viable embryos, so that transfer of fewer healthy embryos will result in a higher proportion of singleton pregnancies. Screening methods include optimizing culture conditions for prolonged culture and selection of viable blastocysts for transfer, or embryo biopsy and aneuploidy screening. Assisted reproduction is also increasingly important in other branches of medicine: survival rates for cancer sufferers are improving continually and there is now a significant need for approaches to preserve fertility after sterilizing chemo-and radiotherapy treatment. Techniques for cryopreserving male and female gametes or gonadal tissue are being developed, although systems to grow and mature these gametes are in their infancy. Finally, there are also concerns regarding the safety of these new assisted reproductive technologies.

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S. Samaké and L. C. Smith

The methods used to achieve blastomere cell cycle synchronization in embryos used as nuclear donors during embryo reconstruction have been largely unsuccessful. The aim of this study was to determine the reliability of 6-dimethylaminopurine (6-DMAP), an inhibitor of maturation promoting factor, to halt and to synchronize blastomere division in cleavage stage bovine embryos. A second goal was to assess its reversibility and toxicity in vitro. Eight-cell stage embryos obtained at 58 h after insemination were treated with several concentrations of 6-DMAP for 12 h. Treated embryos were assessed for cleavage arrest, chromatin morphology, DNA synthesis, histone H1 and scored for blastocyst formation and for hatching rate. They were subsequently fixed and the number of nuclei counted. Complete arrest of cell division was observed at concentrations of 3 mmol 6-DMAP l−1 and above. At these concentrations, interphase nuclei in arrest were noticeably larger compared with interphase nuclei of eight-cell control embryos. Removal from 6-DMAP led to release from cleavage arrest and was followed by synchronized mitosis, histone H1 kinase deactivation and re-entry into interphase within 4–5 h. Twenty-nine per cent of interphase nuclei were synthesizing DNA at the end of the 12 h treatment as indicated by BrdU analysis. At 2 h after removal from 6-DMAP, an abrupt decrease to 9% BrdU-positive nuclei was observed followed by an increase to 39% by 6 h and a decrease to 28% at 10 h. The ability of treated embryos to reach the blastocyst stage in vitro and the number of cells per blastocyst were reduced. These results indicate that 6-DMAP can reversibly arrest and synchronize cleavage to the fifth cell cycle in eight-cell bovine embryos. Although a decrease was observed in the proportion of blastocysts obtained after treatment, it is concluded that 6-DMAP is a useful tool for synchronization studies requiring donor nuclei at metaphase before fusion to recipient oocyte.

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J. M. Sreenan and T. McDonagh

Summary. In Exp. 1, embryo survival rates of 45 and 47% were recorded after artificial insemination and ipsilateral transfer respectively. In Exp. 2, pregnancy rates of 62 and 60% were recorded after artificial insemination and contralateral transfer to inseminated recipients respectively. In this experiment the contralateral transferred embryo survival rate was 44%. Transferred embryo survival was lower overall when donors and recipients were out of phase by 1 day than when exactly synchronous.

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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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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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Anamaria C Herta, Francesca Lolicato, and Johan E J Smitz

The currently available assisted reproduction techniques for fertility preservation (i.e. in vitro maturation (IVM) and in vitro fertilization) are insufficient as stand-alone procedures as only few reproductive cells can be conserved with these techniques. Oocytes in primordial follicles are well suited to survive the cryopreservation procedure and of use as valuable starting material for fertilization, on the condition that these could be grown up to fully matured oocytes. Our understanding of the biological mechanisms directing primordial follicle activation has increased over the last years and this knowledge has paved the way toward clinical applications. New multistep in vitro systems are making use of purified precursor cells and extracellular matrix components and by applying bio-printing technologies, an adequate follicular niche can be built. IVM of human oocytes is clinically applied in patients with polycystic ovary/polycystic ovary syndrome; related knowhow could become useful for fertility preservation and for patients with maturation failure and follicle-stimulating hormone resistance. The expectations from the research on human ovarian tissue and immature oocytes cultures, in combination with the improved vitrification methods, are high as these technologies can offer realistic potential for fertility preservation.

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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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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).