Reproduction and Fertility
First Impact Factor: 2.1



Professor Andrew Horne
Professor of Gynaecology and Reproductive
MRC Centre for Reproductive Health,
University of Edinburgh, UK
Professor Norah Spears
Norah Spears, D Phil
Professor of Reproductive Physiology,
Centre for Integrative Physiology,
University of Edinburgh, UK
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Approximately 50% of human pregnancies humans fail, most before or during implantation. One factor contributing to pregnancy loss is abnormal glucose metabolism in the endometrium. Glucose contributes to preimplantation embryo development, uterine receptivity, and attachment of the embryo. Across multiple species, the epithelium stores glucose as the macromolecule glycogen at estrus. This reserve is mobilized during the preimplantation period. Glucose from circulation or glycogenolysis can be secreted into the uterine lumen for use by the embryo or metabolized via glycolysis, producing ATP for the cell. The resulting pyruvate could be converted to lactate, another important nutrient for the embryo. Fructose is an important nutrient for early embryos, and the epithelium and placenta can convert glucose to fructose via the polyol pathway. The epithelium also uses glucose to glycosylate proteins, which regulates embryo attachment. In some species, decidualization of the stroma is critical to successful implantation. Formation of the decidua requires increased glucose metabolism via the pentose phosphate pathway and glycolysis. After decidualization, the cells switch to aerobic glycolysis to produce ATP. Paradoxically, the decidua also stores large amounts of glucose as glycogen. Too little glucose or an inability to take up glucose impairs embryo development and decidualization. Conversely, too much glucose inhibits these same processes. This likely contributes to the reduced pregnancy rates associated with conditions like obesity and diabetes. Collectively, precise control of glucose metabolism is important for several endometrial processes required to establish a successful pregnancy. The factors regulating these metabolic processes remain poorly understood.

Embryo implantation is vital for successful conception but remains to be fully understood. Trophoblast invasion is key for implantation, with anchorage and depth of placentation determined by its extent. There is a dearth of synchronous information regarding in vitro fertilisation (IVF), implantation site and trophoblastic thickness (TT). Our aim was to determine whether pregnancy implantation site and TT, had an impact on outcomes of IVF pregnancies. This prospective observational study was undertaken at a tertiary referral UK fertility unit over 14-months, collecting data on implantation site and TT from three-dimensional (3D) images of the uterus following early pregnancy scan. Of the 300 women recruited, 277 (92%) had live births, 20 (7%) miscarried, 2 (0.7%) had stillbirths and one (0.3%) had a termination. Significantly more pregnancies that resulted in miscarriage 7/20 (35%) were located in the lower uterine cavity when compared to ongoing pregnancies 15/277 (5%) (p<0.01). TT was significantly higher in ongoing pregnancies when compared with those who miscarried (7.2mm vs 5.5mm; p<0.01). Implantation in the lower half of the uterine cavity and decreased TT are significantly associated with an increased rate of miscarriage. Identification of those at risk should prompt increased monitoring with the aim of supporting these pregnancies.

The refinement of embryo culture media is essential in improving embryo viability and in vitro production efficiency. Our previous work demonstrated that the nutrients (carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins) in traditional culture media far exceed the need for an embryo and producing developmentally competent embryos in a reduced nutrient environment is feasible. Here, we aim to evaluate the impact of exogenous lipid and L-carnitine supplementation on bovine blastocyst development and refine our RN condition further. Zygotes were cultured in the control medium (100% nutrients) and reduced nutrient media containing 6.25% of the standard nutrient concentrations supplemented with L-carnitine and lipid free or lipid rich BSA. Increased blastocyst development was observed in the reduced nutrient lipid rich medium compared to the other two groups. However, in both reduced nutrient conditions, blastocyst cell numbers were lower than those obtained in the control condition. We then examined the expression level of 18 transcripts correlated with lipid metabolism, glucose metabolism, redox balance, and embryo quality, along with mitochondrial DNA copy numbers, ATP productions, and lipid profile. The results indicated lipid metabolism, embryo quality, and redox enzyme related genes were upregulated while glucose related gene was downregulated in embryos derived from reduced nutrient lipid rich condition Finally, we identified that the lipid rich BSA has enriched linoleic, stearic, oleic, palmitic, and alpha-linoleic fatty acids, a lipid profile that may contribute to the increased lipid metabolism and improved blastocyst development of the bovine embryos under the reduced nutrient condition.

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