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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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Benjamin Fisch and Ronit Abir

Anti-cancer therapy, particularly chemotherapy, damages ovarian follicles and promotes ovarian failure. The only pharmacological means for protecting the ovaries from chemotherapy-induced injury is gonadotrophin-releasing hormone agonist, but its efficiency remains controversial; ovarian transposition is used to shield the ovary from radiation when indicated. Until the late 1990s, the only option for fertility preservation and restoration in women with cancer was embryo cryopreservation. The development of other assisted reproductive technologies such as mature oocyte cryopreservation and in vitro maturation of oocytes has contributed to fertility preservation. Treatment regimens to obtain mature oocytes/embryos have been modified to overcome various limitations of conventional ovarian stimulation protocols. In the last decades, several centres have begun cryopreserving ovarian samples containing primordial follicles from young patients before anti-cancer therapy. The first live birth following implantation of cryopreserved-thawed ovarian tissue was reported in 2004; since then, the number has risen to more than 130. Nowadays, ovarian tissue cryopreservation can be combined with in vitro maturation and vitrification of oocytes. The use of cryopreserved oocytes eliminates the risk posed by ovarian implantation of reseeding the cancer. Novel methods for enhancing follicular survival after implantation are presently being studied. In addition, researchers are currently investigating agents for ovarian protection. It is expected that the risk of reimplantation of malignant cells with ovarian grafts will be overcome with the putative development of an artificial ovary and an efficient follicle class- and species-dependent in vitro system for culturing primordial follicles.

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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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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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B. A. Keel, B. W. Webster, and D. K. Roberts

Summary. Ejaculates (164) were obtained from 17 donors serving on an artificial insemination by donor panel. Semen analysis was performed before and after freezing by an integrated microcomputerized system employing the multiple-exposure photography (MEP) method. Sperm count, motility, velocity, motility index (MI; product of the sperm velocity and percentage of motile spermatozoa) and motile density (MD) were determined for each ejaculate. After the initial evaluation the ejaculates were frozen in liquid nitrogen, thawed 24 h later, and assessed for post-thaw motility, velocity, MI and MD. The mean ± s.e. sperm count and volume for this group of donors was 148 ± 4 × 106/ml and 3·1 ± 0·1 ml, respectively. Mean ± s.e. values obtained from the prefreeze analysis were: motility = 64 ± 1%, velocity = 30 ± 0·4μm/sec, MI = 19 ± 0·5 μm/sec and MD = 94 ± 3 × 106/ml. Post-thaw analysis revealed a significant reduction (P < 0·01 in all values measured. Motility was reduced to 27 ± 1%, MI was reduced to 5 ± 0·3 μm/sec, and MD was reduced to 33 ± 1 × 106/ml Velocity was the least affected by cryopreservation, being reduced to 21 ± 0·5 μm/sec (P < 0·01). Cryopreservation resulted in a marked shift in the frequency distribution of sperm motility and motility index towards subnormal values while in the majority of ejaculates velocity and motile density were maintained in the normal range. Significant differences were noted amongst donors in the percentage change of the various semen measures as a result of cryopreservation. When within-subject coefficients of variation were calculated, velocity was the least variable parameter. These results indicate that, while cryopreservation results in significant reductions in the number of motile spermatozoa in the ejaculate, the velocity is only marginally reduced.

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E. A. McLaughlin, W. C. L. Ford, and M. G. R. Hull

Summary. The motility characteristics of washed spermatozoa from 50 normal ejaculates were measured by time-lapse photography, before and after cryopreservation. Plasma membrane integrity was assessed by the hypo-osmotic swelling test and with the supravital fluorescent dye bisbenzimide (H33258).

There was a marked decline in the percentage of progressively motile spermatozoa after cryopreservation, the extent varying widely among donors. Results were, however, consistent between different ejaculates from the same individual. The ability of spermatozoa to survive cryopreservation could not be predicted from the properties of the semen beforehand.

The mean velocity of the spermatozoa was significantly reduced after freezing, but the lateral head displacement was unaltered. There was a significant reduction in the proportion of spermatozoa with intact plasma membranes after cryopreservation and the results of the hypo-osmotic swelling test and H33258 tests correlated closely. There was no correlation between the declines in the percentage of motile spermatozoa, or intact spermatozoa and the sperm velocity.

We conclude that membrane rupture is not the sole cause of loss of motile spermatozoa during freezing and that the decrease in the proportion of motile spermatozoa is caused, at least in part, by a separate process from that responsible for the decrease in the average swimming speed of spermatozoa.

Keywords: spermatozoa; cryopreservation; motility; membranes; semen; donor insemination; human

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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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E. A. McLaughlin, W. C. L. Ford, and M. G. R. Hull

Summary. The contribution of the toxicity of glycerol–egg yolk–citrate (GEYC) cryopreservative medium to the loss of function of human spermatozoa during cryopreservation was determined by investigating the effect of mixing semen with the medium on sperm motility. The percentage of progressively motile spermatozoa, velocity (μm s−1) and lateral head displacement (μm) (mean ± sem, n = 28) were 55 ± 4·1, 47 ± 2·7, 4·4 ± 0·2 and 32 ± 3·8, 40 ± 2·5, 3·6 ± 0·25 and 15 ± 2·5, 28 ± 1·1, 2·8 ± 0·15 in suspensions of washed spermatozoa prepared from fresh, GEYC-treated and frozen–thawed semen, respectively. The variables changed only slightly after incubation for 3 h. The toxicity of GEYC did not vary significantly between samples which survived the complete freeze–thaw cycle well or very poorly. The toxicity of GEYC is responsible for about 50% of the loss of progressively motile spermatozoa during the complete cryopreservation process, but has little effect on the quality of motility. Susceptibility to GEYC does not explain observed differences in the ability of semen samples to survive freezing.

Keywords: cryopreservation; spermatozoa; motility; glycerol; donor insemination; human

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R A Anderson, W H B Wallace, and D T Baird

Female fertility preservation provides significantly different challenges to that for the male, with the only established method being cryopreservation of embryos thus necessitating the involvement of a male. Other, experimental, options include oocyte or ovarian tissue cryopreservation. The latter has been regarded as a potential method for more than a decade, but has resulted in the birth of only five babies. It is not possible to be certain how many women have had ovarian tissue cryopreserved. Oocyte cryopreservation also remains experimental, but ∼100-fold more babies have been born through this technique over the last two decades. Ovarian tissue cryopreservation has the potential advantages of preservation of a large number of oocytes within primordial follicles, it does not require hormonal stimulation when time is short and indeed may be appropriate for the pre-pubertal. Disadvantages include the need for an invasive procedure, and the uncertain risk of ovarian contamination in haematological and other malignancies. We here review this approach in the context of our own experience of 36 women, highlighting issues of patient selection especially in the young, and uncertainties over the effects of cancer treatments on subsequent fertility. Of these 36 women, 11 have died but 5 have had spontaneous pregnancies. So far, none have requested reimplantation of their stored ovarian tissue. Ovarian cryopreservation appears to be a potentially valuable method for fertility preservation, but the indications and approaches best used remain unclear.

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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.