Mitochondrial DNA content decreases during in vitro human embryo development: insights into mitochondrial DNA variation in preimplantation embryos donated for research

Original Articles: Gamete Biology

VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1, P36-45


Marta Perez-Sanchez, M.Sc., Antonio Díez-Juan, Ph.D., Diana Beltran, M.Sc., Amparo Mifsud, Ph.D., Amparo Mercader, Ph.D., Carmina Vidal, M.D., Elena Labarta, M.D., Antonio Pellicer, Prof., Emre Seli, M.D., María Jose De Los Santos, Ph.D.



To assess the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) load and variation in human oocytes and during preimplantation embryo development using specimens donated for research.


Prospective cohort study.


Not applicable.


A total of 50 in vitro fertilization patients and 11 oocyte donors whose specimens were obtained between July 2017 and July 2018.



Main Outcome Measures

All specimens were separately collected. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction was performed with SurePlex DNA Amplification System (Illumina). Primers for the adenosine triphosphate 8 mitochondrial gene and the β-actin were used. Data were statistically analyzed by analysis of variance with the Scheffé multiple pairwise comparison for categorical variables and by linear regression for numerical variables.


Human metaphase II (MII) oocytes had significantly more total mtDNA copy number than day 3 embryos, and day 3 embryos had more total and per-cell mtDNA copy number than aneuploid blastocysts. There was a significant decrease in mtDNA content associated with failed-fertilized oocytes compared to noninseminated metaphase II oocytes.


During preimplantation development, before implantation, human embryos undergo a significant decrease in total mtDNA content and no increase in mtDNA content at the blastocyst stage. Oocytes need to carry a correct threshold of mitochondrial load in the oocyte in order to successfully fertilize. An active degradation of mtDNA before implantation occurs after fertilization takes place. These findings could be used to improve knowledge about the best embryo culture conditions and would serve as a basis for further studies addressing again the use of mtDNA content as an embryo viability marker.

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