Influence of cell loss after vitrification or slow-freezing on further in vitro development and implantation of human Day 3 embryos

L Van Landuyt, H Van de Velde, A De Vos, P Haentjens, C Blockeel, H Tournaye, G Verheyen
Human Reproduction 2013, 28 (11): 2943-9

STUDY QUESTION: Is the effect of cell loss on further cleavage and implantation different for vitrified than for slowly frozen Day 3 embryos?

SUMMARY ANSWER: Vitrified embryos develop better overnight than slowly frozen embryos, regardless of the number of cells lost, but have similar implantation potential if further cleavage occurs overnight.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: After slow-freezing, similar implantation rates have been obtained for intact 4-cell embryos or 4-cell embryos with 1 cell damaged. For slowly frozen Day 3 embryos, lower implantation rates have been observed when at least 25% of cells were lost. Other studies reported similar implantation potential for 7- to 8-cell embryos with 0, 1 or 2 cells damaged. No data are available on further development of vitrified embryos in relation to cell damage.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Survival and overnight cleavage were retrospectively assessed for 7664 slowly frozen Day 3 embryos (study period: January 2004-December 2008) and 1827 vitrified embryos (study period: April 2010-September 2011). Overnight cleavage was assessed according to cell stage at cryopreservation and post-thaw cell loss for both protocols. The relationship between cell loss and implantation rate was analysed in a subgroup of single-embryo transfers (SETs) with 780 slowly frozen and 294 vitrified embryos.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Embryos with ≥6 blastomeres and ≤20% fragmentation were cryopreserved using slow controlled freezing [with dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO) as cryoprotectant] or closed vitrification [with DMSO-ethylene glycol (EG)-sucrose (S) as cryoprotectants]. Only embryos with ≥50% of cells intact after thawing were cultured overnight and were only transferred if further cleaved. For each outcome, logistic regression analysis was performed.

MAIN RESULTS AND ROLE OF CHANCE: Survival was 94 and 64% after vitrification and slow-freezing respectively. Logistic regression analysis showed that overnight cleavage of surviving embryos was higher after vitrification than after slow-freezing (P < 0.001) and decreased according to the degree of cell damage (P < 0.001). If the embryo continued to cleave after thawing, there was no effect of the number of cells lost or the cryopreservation method on its implantation potential. The implantation rates of embryos with 0, 1 or 2 cells damaged were, respectively, 21% (n = 114), 21% (n = 28) and 20% (n = 12) after slow-freezing and 20% (n = 50), 21% (n = 5) and 27% (n = 4) after vitrification.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: This analysis is retrospective and study periods for vitrification and slow-freezing are different. The number of SETs with vitrified embryos is limited. However, a large number of vitrified embryos were available to analyse the further cleavage of surviving embryos.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Although it is not proved that vitrified embryos are more viable than slowly frozen embryos in terms of pregnancy outcome, vitrification yields higher survival rates, better overnight development and higher transfer rates per embryo warmed. This increases the number of frozen transfer cycles originating from a single treatment and might result in a better cumulative clinical outcome. Based on the present data, the policy to warm an extra embryo before overnight culture depends on the cell stage at cryopreservation and the cell damage after warming. For 8-cell embryos, up to two cells may be damaged compared with only one cell for 6- to 7-cell embryos, before an additional embryo is warmed.


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