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Title: Combined noninvasive metabolic and spindle imaging as potential tools for embryo and oocyte assessment

Is the combined use of fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM)-based metabolic imaging and second harmonic generation (SHG) spindle imaging a feasible and safe approach for noninvasive embryo assessment?


Metabolic imaging can sensitively detect meaningful metabolic changes in embryos, SHG produces high-quality images of spindles and the methods do not significantly impair embryo viability.


Proper metabolism is essential for embryo viability. Metabolic imaging is a well-tested method for measuring metabolism of cells and tissues, but it is unclear if it is sensitive enough and safe enough for use in embryo assessment.


This study consisted of time-course experiments and control versus treatment experiments. We monitored the metabolism of 25 mouse oocytes with a noninvasive metabolic imaging system while exposing them to oxamate (cytoplasmic lactate dehydrogenase inhibitor) and rotenone (mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation inhibitor) in series. Mouse embryos (n = 39) were measured every 2 h from the one-cell stage to blastocyst in order to characterize metabolic changes occurring during pre-implantation development. To assess the safety of FLIM illumination, n = 144 illuminated embryos were implanted into n = 12 mice, and n = 108 nonilluminated embryos were implanted into n = 9 mice.


Experiments were performed in mouse embryos and oocytes. Samples were more » monitored with noninvasive, FLIM-based metabolic imaging of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) autofluorescence. Between NADH cytoplasm, NADH mitochondria and FAD mitochondria, a single metabolic measurement produces up to 12 quantitative parameters for characterizing the metabolic state of an embryo. For safety experiments, live birth rates and pup weights (mean ± SEM) were used as endpoints. For all test conditions, the level of significance was set at P < 0.05.


Measured FLIM parameters were highly sensitive to metabolic changes due to both metabolic perturbations and embryo development. For oocytes, metabolic parameter values were compared before and after exposure to oxamate and rotenone. The metabolic measurements provided a basis for complete separation of the data sets. For embryos, metabolic parameter values were compared between the first division and morula stages, morula and blastocyst and first division and blastocyst. The metabolic measurements again completely separated the data sets. Exposure of embryos to excessive illumination dosages (24 measurements) had no significant effect on live birth rate (5.1 ± 0.94 pups/mouse for illuminated group; 5.7 ± 1.74 pups/mouse for control group) or pup weights (1.88 ± 0.10 g for illuminated group; 1.89 ± 0.11 g for control group).


The study was performed using a mouse model, so conclusions concerning sensitivity and safety may not generalize to human embryos. A limitation of the live birth data is also that although cages were routinely monitored, we could not preclude that some runt pups may have been eaten.


Promising proof-of-concept results demonstrate that FLIM with SHG provide detailed biological information that may be valuable for the assessment of embryo and oocyte quality. Live birth experiments support the method’s safety, arguing for further studies of the clinical utility of these techniques.


Supported by the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator Grant at Harvard University and by the Harvard Catalyst/The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (National Institutes of Health Award UL1 TR001102), by NSF grants DMR-0820484 and PFI-TT-1827309 and by NIH grant R01HD092550-01. T.S. was supported by a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology grant (1308878). S.F. and S.A. were supported by NSF MRSEC DMR-1420382. Becker and Hickl GmbH sponsored the research with the loaning of equipment for FLIM. T.S. and D.N. are cofounders and shareholders of LuminOva, Inc., and co-hold patents (US20150346100A1 and US20170039415A1) for metabolic imaging methods. D.S. is on the scientific advisory board for Cooper Surgical and has stock options with LuminOva, Inc.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Human Reproduction
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 2349-2361
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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