The process of fertilization, development, implantation, and gestation in mammals is a rather complicated encompassing a wide range of factors at each stage. For most mammals fertilization of a mature egg occurs deep in the fallopian tubes. At that point, the developing embryo passes through the oviduct to the female’s uterus.

Its chances of implanting in the uterine wall, during the preimplantation process, involve several steps as well as some key factors. If anyone of them isn’t right, it can significantly reduce the embryo’s chances of implanting to continue on through the complete process of gestation.

There are a variety of distinct cellular activities and molecular biological processes, which are capable of affecting the health as well as the viability of the developing embryo.

This includes things such as:

  • Blastocyst activation
  • Uterine receptivity
  • Blastocyst attachment
  • Uterine decidualization

Issues with any one of these processes could reduce implantation rates in women. This can be even more pronounced if there are other underlying medical complications which could also affect conception, and implantation rates, as well as the process of gestation.

Studying The Reproductive Process Of Mice Helps Shed Light On The Process Of Human Reproduction

While it might not seem it at first glance, the mouse has become a well‐established model used in various genetic engineering strategies. Their reproductive system serves as an inexpensive, low-risk analog for studying mammalian reproduction. This includes critical components of embryonic development.

At the current time, our understanding of the preimplantation process came mostly from ex vivo culturing experiments. In these studies, in vivo analysis of preimplantation embryos wasn’t conducted in the oviduct. Which can potentially complicate things as the oviduct is the embryo’s native growing environment immediately following fertilization of the egg by an individual sperm?

This brings up concerns, that other outside factors could be involved or obscuring the data of various embryo development studies. By and large, the problem was related to a lack of viable imaging technology to observe the natural process inside the oviduct.

The chief argument being that the oviduct itself supplies a variety of highly complex biochemical as well as biomechanical environments to the developing embryo before implantation. These processes are very difficult to replicate in an ex vivo clinical environment. The end result makes it very challenging, if not impossible to fully understand the natural processes at work in the preimplantation process.

While many related studies make every effort to replicate these factors in the unique environment of the oviduct, it tends to be a place where science cannot fully mimic nature.

This further reduces the realm of available study in the relationship between embryos and the oviduct. Many specialists in the field believe that further insights into the area could lead to major breakthrough improvements in things such as infertility management as well as IVF treatments for human beings.

New Imaging Technology May Open The Door To New Areas Of Study

Traditional modalities for studying this area of research, such as bright-field microscopy or interference-based quantitative phase microscopy, do offer a set of potential tools which could be capable of carrying out a live study of the preimplantation process. However, developing embryonic cells need to be removed from the female host’s reproductive tract to perform these diagnostics. This presents the same complications in accurately studying the full range of biochemical and biomechanical factors that occur in the preimplantation development process occurring within the oviduct.

Another option in this field of study comes from a dorsal intravital window for in vivo optical coherence microscopy. Also known as OCM this special imaging technology makes it possible to closely monitor the preimplantation process for developing embryos. The detailed illustration of the window as well as the protective cover allows physicians to capture images that are taken in vivo.

Scientists based out of Baylor College of Medicine located in Texas Medical Center, in Houston, managed to demonstrate the feasibility of using optical coherence microscopy technology to safely image as well as stage the preimplantation process in mice embryos as they develop in vivo. They were able to use OCM to view the process through a dorsal imaging window, in a variety of stages.

This included the characteristic morphological features of oocytes, and zygotes, as well as other aspects of the preimplantation process. The images were resolved both in an in vitro and in vivo environment. It’s also worth noting that the OCM image quality was comparable with the traditional bright‐field microscopy that has been used in vitro in past studies and other clinical environments.

Members of the team noted that the optical coherence microscopy opens up exciting new areas of study related to the early developmental process that naturally takes place in the oviduct. It can also allow future researchers to more accurately investigate the complex interactions that occur in the oviduct throughout the preimplantation process. This could further yield insights which can improve the management of infertility as well as improvements in treatments such as assisted reproductive technology.

What To Look For In the Future

Of course, the early returns are just coming in on the potential research made possible by OCM imaging technology. Going forward there is renewed hope that new studies will be proposed, implemented, and published on a wide range of research topics it makes available.

With increased awareness and development OCM technology could also help increase implantation rates in various IVF treatments. What the future holds for this promising new imaging technology tantalizes the mind with possibilities. It may just prove the kind of breakthrough that helps bring renewed hope to families and individuals who have been struggling with fertility issues.

Source – Advance Science News