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Robert Milewski and Anna Ajduk

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of the most important procedures for treating infertility. As several embryos are usually produced in a single IVF cycle, it is crucial to select only the most viable ones for transfer to the patient. Morphokinetics, i.e. analysis of the dynamics of cleavage divisions and processes such as compaction and cavitation, has provided both biologists and clinicians with a new set of data regarding embryonic behaviour during preimplantation development and its association with embryo quality. In the current review, we focus on biological significance of morphokinetic parameters and show how they can be used to predict a reproductive outcome. We also explain the statistics behind the predictive algorithms and discuss the future perspectives of morphokinetics.

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Robert Milewski, Marcin Szpila, and Anna Ajduk

In vitro fertilization has become increasingly popular as an infertility treatment. In order to improve efficiency of this procedure, there is a strong need for a refinement of existing embryo assessment methods and development of novel, robust and non-invasive selection protocols. Studies conducted on animal models can be extremely helpful here, as they allow for more extensive research on the potential biomarkers of embryo quality. In the present paper, we subjected mouse embryos to non-invasive time-lapse imaging and combined the Particle Image Velocimetry analysis of cytoplasmic dynamics in freshly fertilized oocytes with the morphokinetic analysis of recordings covering 5 days of preimplantation development. Our results indicate that parameters describing cytoplasmic dynamics and cleavage divisions independently correspond to mouse embryo’s capacity to form a high-quality blastocyst. We also showed for the first time that these parameters are associated with the percentage of abnormal embryonic cells with fragmented nuclei and with embryo’s ability to form primitive endoderm, one of the cell lineages differentiated during preimplantation development. Finally, we present a model that links selected cytoplasmic and morphokinetic parameters reflecting frequency of fertilization-induced Ca2+-oscillations and timing of 4-cell stage and compaction with viability of the embryo assessed as the total number of cells at the end of its preimplantation development. Our results indicate that a combined analysis of cytoplasmic dynamics and morphokinetics may facilitate the assessment of embryo’s ability to form high-quality blastocysts.

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Monika Fluks, Katarzyna Szczepanska, Takao Ishikawa, and Anna Ajduk

In fully grown ovarian follicles both transcriptionally active (NSN) and inactive (SN) oocytes are present. NSN oocytes have been shown to display lower developmental potential. It is possible that oocytes that have not completed transcription before meiosis resumption accumulate less RNA and proteins required for their further development, including those responsible for regulation of Ca2+ homeostasis. Oscillations of the cytoplasmic concentration of free Ca2+ ions ([Ca2+]i) are triggered in oocytes by a fertilizing spermatozoon and are crucial for inducing and regulating further embryonic development. We showed that NSN-derived oocytes express less inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate receptor type 1 (IP3R1), store less Ca2+ ions and generate weaker spontaneous [Ca2+]i oscillations during maturation than SN oocytes. Consequently, NSN oocytes display aberrant [Ca2+]i oscillations at fertilization. We speculate that this defective regulation of Ca2+ homeostasis might be one of the factors responsible for the lower developmental potential of NSN oocytes.

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Anna Ajduk, Maria A Ciemerych, Victoria Nixon, Karl Swann, and Marek Maleszewski

Fertilization affects levels of cyclin B1 and M-phase promoting factor (MPF) activity in maturing and metaphase II mouse oocytes in two distinct ways. In metaphase II oocytes, it leads to a Ca2 +-dependent, continuous degradation of cyclin B1 and inactivation of cyclin dependent kinase (CDC2A)–cyclin B1 complex (MPF). In this paper, we show that neither mono- nor polyspermic fertilization of prometaphase I and metaphase I oocytes triggered degradation of cyclin B1. However, polyspermic fertilization of prometaphase I oocytes led to a transient decrease in MPF activity that lasted for 2 h. The inactivation of MPF in polyspermic prometaphase I oocytes did not depend on the fertilization-induced increase in the cytoplasmic concentration of free Ca2 + ions, but was caused, at least in part, by dephosphorylation of CDC2A at threonine 161 (Thr161). We found that polyspermic fertilization did not affect glutathione levels in prometaphase I oocytes, and concluded that the decrease in MPF activity and dephosphorylation of CDC2A at Thr161 in polyspermic prometaphase I oocytes were not caused by a change in the redox status of the cell induced by an introduction of excessive amount of sperm protamines. Instead, we propose that inactivation of MPF activity in polyspermic maturing oocytes is caused by a change in nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio that leads to a ‘titration’ of kinases and phosphatases responsible for keeping MPF in an active state. This idea is supported by the finding that oocytes fused with thymocytes rather than spermatozoa also showed a transient decrease in MPF activity.

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Monika Fluks, Szymon Tamborski, Maciej Szkulmowski, and Anna Ajduk

In brief

Optical coherence microscopy is a label-free and non-invasive imaging technique capable of 3D subcellular structure visualization. Here we show that this method allows for quality assessment of immature mouse oocytes based on their chromatin conformation and can be a valuable addition to the toolkit used in assisted reproduction procedures.

Abstract

The success of assisted reproductive technologies, and particularly in vitro maturation, is tightly linked to the quality of oocytes. Therefore, there is a need for robust, reliable, and easy-to-assess biomarkers of oocyte developmental competence. Microscopy techniques visualizing oocyte intracellular structure could provide such biomarkers. However, fluorescence imaging methods, applied frequently in biology and allowing for detailed structural and dynamic studies of single cells, require fluorescent tags to visualize cellular architecture and may cause short- and long-term photo-damage. On the other hand, traditional light microscopy, although relatively non-invasive, does not provide detailed structural information. Optical coherence microscopy (OCM) is a promising alternative, as it does not require sample pre-processing or labelling and can provide 3D images of intracellular structures. Here we applied OCM to assess the chromatin conformation of immature mouse oocytes, a feature that corresponds with their transcriptional status and developmental competence and cannot be examined by traditional light microscopy. We showed that OCM distinguished oocytes with so-called non-surrounded nucleoli (NSN) and surrounded nucleoli (SN) chromatin conformation with very high sensitivity and specificity and that OCM scanning did not decrease the quality of oocytes. Finally, we cross-referenced OCM data with the oocyte ability to undergo normal nuclear and cytoplasmic maturation and proven that indeed oocytes scored with OCM as NSN mature less effectively than oocytes scored as SN. Our results suggest that OCM may be a valuable addition to the imaging toolkit used in assisted reproduction procedures.