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Influence of ultra-low oxygen (2%) tension on in-vitro human embryo development

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

STUDY QUESTION: Is a reduction in the oxygen tension from 5 to 2% during extended culture from Day 3 onwards beneficial for human blastocyst development in vitro?

SUMMARY ANSWER: A reduction in oxygen concentration from 5 to 2% O2 after Day 3 did not improve embryo development, quality and utilization rate.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: The human embryo leaves the fallopian tube to reach the uterine cavity around Day 3-4 post-ovulation. As the oxygen concentration ranges from 5 to 7% in the fallopian tube and decreases to 2% in the uterus, reducing the oxygen tension during extended culture from Day 3 onwards seems more physiological. We aim to mimic the in-vivo environment during in-vitro embryo culture. Therefore, we compared the effect of extended culture performed at 5% (control arm) or 2% oxygen (O2; study arm) tension on blastocyst formation and quality.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Between December 2016 and September 2017, in two prospective studies, sibling embryos were randomized on Day 3 to either 5% O2 (control) or 2% O2 (study) for extended culture. In the control arms of both studies 1 and 2, the dishes with blastocyst medium were pre-equilibrated overnight in 5% O2, 6% CO2 and 89% N2 at 37°C. In the 2% study groups, the overnight pre-equilibration of blastocyst media was performed in either 2% O2 (study 1, 99 cycles) or 5% O2 (study 2, 126 cycles). The latter provides a gradual transition from 5 to 2% O2 environment for the study arm.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTINGS, METHODS: Embryo culture until Day 3 was always performed in 5% O2; if at least four embryos of moderate to excellent quality were obtained on Day 3, the sibling embryos were randomized to either 5% O2 or 2% O2 for extended culture. The endpoints were embryo development and quality on Day 5/6 and the utilization rate (embryos transferred and cryopreserved). Statistical analysis was performed using the chi-square test, a P-value of <0.05 was considered significantly different.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: In study 1, 811 embryos were randomized on Day 3: 405 to the 2% O2 and 406 to the 5% O2 condition. No differences were observed in the blastulation rate (68.6 versus 71.9%; P = 0.319) and the proportion of good quality blastocysts on Day 5 (55.8 versus 55.2%; P = 0.888), nor in the utilization rate (53.1 versus 53.2%; P = 1.000). In study 2, 1144 embryos were randomized: 572 in each arm. Similarly, no significant difference was demonstrated in terms of the blastulation rate (63.6 versus 64.7%; P = 0.758), the proportion of good quality blastocysts (46.9 versus 48.8%; P = 0.554) or the utilization rate (49.8 versus 48.1%; P = 0.953).

LIMITATIONS, REASON FOR CAUTION: This study evaluated embryo development only until Day 5/6. The effect of oxidative stress on the developing embryo may only become evident at later stages (i.e. during implantation) and should therefore be studied in an RCT. The question also remains as to whether the switch to ultra-low oxygen tension from Day 4 onwards, when the embryo arrives in the uterus in vivo, would be preferential.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Based on the present study results, there is no benefit in lowering the oxygen tension from 5 to 2% from Day 3 onwards during extended human embryo culture.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(s): No funding was received for this study and the authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: N/A.

Journal: Human Reproduction
ISSN: 0268-1161
Issue: 2
Volume: 34
Pages: 228-234
Number of pages: 7
Publication year:2019
Keywords:blastocyst culture, blastocyst formation, human, oxygen tension, ultra-low oxygen