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  • Author: Etienne Van den Abbeel x
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Katarzyna Joanna Szymańska, Nerea Ortiz-Escribano, Etienne Van den Abbeel, Ann Van Soom and Luc Leybaert

Vitrification of immature germinal vesicle-stage oocytes is a promising method in assisted reproduction but is associated with reduced developmental potential and low birth rates. Cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs) express several connexins that form hexameric hemichannels, which interact head to head to create a gap junction or exist as unopposed free hemichannels. The latter are normally closed but open under stress conditions and may exert detrimental effects. We determined whether minimizing hemichannel opening and cell death during vitrification could improve COC quality. Bovine immature COCs underwent vitrification, storage and warming, followed by dye uptake to assess hemichannel opening and TUNEL staining to detect cell death. Based on these scores, we optimized the procedure by tuning the equilibration time, temperature, cryoprotectant concentration and extracellular Ca2+ concentration and assessed its impact on maturation, cleavage and blastocyst formation after parthenogenetic activation. We found that the major stressor resides in the cooling/warming phase of the vitrification procedure and observed that hemichannel opening and cell death in cumulus cells measure different aspects of cell stress. Optimization of the hemichannel and cell death readouts demonstrated that combined minimal hemichannel opening/cell death gave the highest cleavage rates but had no effect on maturation and blastocyst formation. Neither hemichannel nor cell death optimization performed better than the non-optimized protocol, leading to the conclusion that cell stress factors other than those detected by hemichannel dye uptake or TUNEL positivity are involved.

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Eline Wydooghe, Leen Vandaele, Sofie Piepers, Jeroen Dewulf, Etienne Van den Abbeel, Petra De Sutter and Ann Van Soom

Recently, new culture devices such as Corral and Primo Vision dishes have been designed for the culture of human embryos to allow the combination of group culture plus follow-up of individual embryos. Bovine inseminated oocytes were allocated to Primo Vision dishes, Corral dishes, individual culture or classical group culture. Blastocyst development in Primo Vision dishes was similar to classical group culture (34.3 and 39.0% respectively), and better than Corral dishes or individual culture (28.9 and 28.5% respectively). In Primo Vision dishes, a higher number of ‘slow’ embryos developed to the blastocyst stage compared with their individually cultured counterparts, while no differences were observed for ‘fast’ embryos. ‘Slow’ embryos in a ‘standard drop’ had a higher chance of becoming a blastocyst compared with individual culture (OR: 2.3), whereas blastulation of ‘fast’ embryos was less efficient in a ‘delayed drop’ than in individual culture (OR: 0.3). The number of non-cleaved embryos in Primo Vision dishes did not negatively influence blastocyst development. Likewise, removing non-cleaved embryos (NC removed) and regrouping the cleaved embryos afterwards (ReGR) did not affect blastocyst development and quality compared with group culture in Primo Vision dishes (CTRL, 31.6%, NC removed, 29.3% and ReGR, 29.6%). The experiments revealed that group culture of bovine embryos in Primo Vision dishes is superior to individual culture, primarily because of the higher blastocyst rate achieved by slow embryos. Non-cleaved or arrested embryos do not hamper the ability of co-cultured bovine embryos to reach the blastocyst stage in group culture.