Oxygen is a powerful regulator of preimplantation embryo development, affecting gene expression, the proteome, and energy metabolism. Even a transient exposure to atmospheric oxygen can have a negative impact on embryo development, which is greatest prior to compaction, and subsequent postcompaction culture at low oxygen cannot alleviate this damage. In spite of this evidence, the majority of human in vitro fertilization is still performed at atmospheric oxygen. One of the physiological parameters shown to be affected by the relative oxygen concentration, carbohydrate metabolism, is linked to the ability of the mammalian embryo to develop in culture and remain viable after transfer. The aim of this study was, therefore, to determine the effect of oxygen concentration on the ability of mouse embryos to utilize both amino acids and carbohydrates both before and after compaction. Metabolomic and fluorometric analysis of embryo culture media revealed that when embryos were exposed to atmospheric oxygen during the cleavage stages, they exhibited significantly greater amino acid utilization and pyruvate uptake than when cultured under 5% oxygen. In contrast, postcompaction embryos cultured in atmospheric oxygen showed significantly lower mean amino acid utilization and glucose uptake. These metabolic changes correlated with developmental compromise because embryos grown in atmospheric oxygen at all stages showed significantly lower blastocyst formation and proliferation. These findings confirm the need to consider both embryo development and metabolism in establishing optimal human embryo growth conditions and prognostic markers of viability, and further highlight the impact of oxygen on such vital parameters.
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Vol. 87 • No. 1