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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.


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.