Wednesday, 02 November 2016 09:12
Published in IVF Research

The effects of chemical and physical factors on mammalian embryo culture and their importance for the practice of assisted human reproduction

Petra L. Wale1,2,* and David K. Gardner1

1 School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
2 Melbourne IVF, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
* Correspondence address. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Submitted on February 10, 2015; resubmitted on May 28, 2015; accepted on June 25, 2015

BACKGROUND: Although laboratory procedures, along with culture media formulations, have improved over the past two decades, the issue remains that human IVF is performed in vitro (literally ‘in glass’).

METHODS: Using PubMed, electronic searches were performed using keywords from a list of chemical and physical factors with no limits placed on time. Examples of keywords include oxygen, ammonium, volatile organics, temperature, pH, oil overlays and incubation volume/embryo density. Available clinical and scientific evidence surrounding physical and chemical factors have been assessed and presented here.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Development of the embryo outside the body means that it is constantly exposed to stresses that it would not experience in vivo. Sources of stress on the human embryo include identified factors such as pH and temperature shifts, exposure to atmospheric (20%) oxygen and the build-up of toxins in the media due to the static nature of culture. However, there are other sources of stress not typically considered, such as the act of pipetting itself, or the release of organic compounds from the very tissue culture ware upon which the embryo develops. Further, when more than one stress is present in the laboratory, there is evidence that negative synergies can result, culminating in significant trauma to the developing embryo. It is evident that embryos are sensitive to both chemical and physical signals within their microenvironment, and that these factors play a significant role in influencing development and events post transfer. From the viewpoint of assisted human reproduction, a major concern with chemical and physical factors lies in their adverse effects on the viability of embryos, and their long-term effects on the fetus, even as a result of a relatively brief exposure. This review presents data on the adverse effects of chemical and physical factors on mammalian embryos and the importance of identifying, and thereby minimizing, them in the practice of human IVF. Hence, optimizing the in vitro environment involves far more than improving culture media formulations.

Key words: ammonium / embryo culture / combined stress / density / oxygen / pH / pipetting / temperature

Human Reproduction Update Advance Access published July 22, 2015.

Human Reproduction Update, Vol.0, No.0 pp. 1–21, 2015

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