Molecular human reproduction
Embryo cryopreservation has become a standard procedure in the practice of assisted reproduction. While routinely performed in IVF labs, the effects of embryo vitrification on the molecular mechanisms governing preimplantation development remain largely unknown. The endoplasmic reticulum stress (ER stress) response is an evolutionary conserved mechanism that cells employ to manage ER stress. ER stress can be defined as an imbalance between protein synthesis and secretion within the ER. The primary focus of this study was to investigate whether standard embryo manipulations, including embryo collection, culture and vitrification, result in activation of the ER stress pathway in vitro and to determine whether the embryo utilizes the unfolded protein response as an adaptive response. Our results indicate that the major ER stress pathway constituents are present at all stages of preimplantation development and that the activation of ER stress pathways can be induced at the 8-cell, morula and blastocyst stages. Additionally, we have demonstrated that the IRE1α arm of the ER Stress pathway is activated in freshly collected embryos but contrastingly, this ER Stress arm is not activated following embryo vitrification. It is important to understand the possible stresses that Assisted Reproductive Technologies place on the embryo and the mechanisms the embryo employs to adapt to these stresses. This study indicates that among the adaptive pathways available, cultured mammalian embryos can employ the ER stress pathway. Assisted reproduction techniques should be aware that their activities may induce the ER stress pathway in their patients' early embryos.