Author(s): Enkhmaa D, Kasai T, Hoshi K
Small amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS), metabolites of oxygen, are necessary for sperm-fertilizing capability. However, in excessive levels, their role in infertility has been extensively studied. The conventional in vitro fertilization (IVF) method employs a prolonged co-incubation of gametes for 16-18 h to reach fertilization. However, it has been shown that this long period might create high levels of ROS. We aimed at finding out whether ROS increases in vitro during prolonged incubation with fertilized oocytes and whether high level of ROS relates to poor embryo development. To confirm if levels of ROS relate to length of time, we measured the ROS levels in fertilization medium (FM), which contained mouse embryos exposed to spermatozoa. To evaluate the contribution of sperm in production of ROS, we measured the ROS in the medium with only sperm. The measurements were performed by chemiluminescence assay using luminol as a probe after 4 and 18 h of incubation separately. The ROS levels were significantly increased after 18 h as compared with 4 h (p < 0.0001). Moreover, ROS in the medium with only sperm was also increased after 18 h (p < 0.0001), demonstrating that they were generated either by spermatozoa or as a result of possible reaction of sperm with medium during prolonged incubation. In addition, we compared embryo development after 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 18 h of incubation. The number of degenerated embryos exposed to sperm for 12 and 18 h was significantly higher than those exposed for 4 or 6 h (p < 0.01). These results demonstrate that ROS concentrations appear to be related to the length of incubation time, and their excessive levels have a negative effect on embryo development. We suggest reducing incubation time to at least 4 h.