Sugars such as trehalose, sucrose, and glucose are effectively used by a variety of animals (e.g., brine shrimp, tardigrades, some frogs, and insects), as well as by bacteria, yeasts, and plant seeds to survive freezing and extreme drying. The objective of this study was to examine the potential application of sugars to mammalian oocyte cryopreservation. To this end, we used trehalose, a nonreducing disaccharide, and mouse metaphase II oocytes as models. Our experiments show that extracellular trehalose alone affords some protection at high subzero temperatures (e.g., −15°C), which diminishes with further cooling of the oocytes to −30°C and below. When present both intracellularly and extracellularly, trehalose dramatically improves the cryosurvival with increasing extracellular concentrations to 0.5 M, even after cooling to −196°C. Furthermore, the combination of intracellular and extracellular trehalose with small amounts of a conventional penetrating cryoprotectant (i.e., 0.5 M dimethylsulfoxide) provide high survival, fertilization, and embryonic development rates statistically similar to untreated controls. When transferred to foster mothers, cryopreserved oocytes give rise to healthy offspring showing the proof of principle. Our experiments with differential scanning calorimetry indicate that when cooled using the same cryopreservation protocol, the mixture of 0.5 M trehalose and cryopreservation medium undergoes glass transition at high subzero temperatures, which further substantiates the use of sugars as intracellular and extracellular cryoprotectants. Taken together, our results are in agreement with the survival schemes in nature and demonstrate the successful use of sugars in cryopreservation of mammalian oocytes.
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Vol. 80 • No. 1