Danilo Cimadomo, Anabella Marconetto, Samuele Trio, Viviana Chiappetta, Federica Innocenti, Laura Albricci,
Erlich Assaf Ben-Meir, Iris Har-Vardi, Ben Kantor, Anat Sakov, Giovanni Coticchio, Andrea Borini, Filippo Maria Ubaldi, and Laura Rienzi
Human Reproduction, pp. 1–16, 2022 Aug 8; deac175. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deac175
Study question: What are the factors associated with human blastocyst spontaneous collapse and the consequences of this event?
Summary answer: Approximately 50% of blastocysts collapsed, especially when non-viable, morphologically poor and/or aneuploid.
What is known already: Time-lapse microscopy (TLM) is a powerful tool to observe preimplantation development dynamics. Lately, artificial intelligence (AI) has been harnessed to automate and standardize such observations. Here, we adopted AI to comprehensively portray blastocyst spontaneous collapse, namely the phenomenon of reduction in size of the embryo accompanied by efflux of blastocoel fluid and the detachment of the trophectoderm (TE) from the zona pellucida (ZP). Although the underlying causes are unknown, blastocyst spontaneous collapse deserves attention as a possible marker of reduced competence.
Study design, size, duration: An observational study was carried out, including 2348 TLM videos recorded during preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidies (PGT-A, n = 720) cycles performed between January 2013 and December 2020. All embryos in the analysis at least reached the time of starting blastulation (tSB), 1943 of them reached full expansion, and were biopsied and then vitrified.
Participants/materials, setting, methods: ICSI, blastocyst culture, TE biopsy without Day 3 ZP drilling, comprehensive chromosome testing and vitrification were performed. The AI software automatically registered tSB and time of expanding blastocyst (tEB), start and end time of each collapse, time between consecutive collapses, embryo proper area, percentage of shrinkage, embryo:ZP ratio at embryo collapse, time of biopsy (t-biopsy) and related area of the fully (re-)expanded blastocyst before biopsy, time between the last collapse and biopsy. Blastocyst morphological quality was defined according to both Gardner’s criteria and an AI-generated implantation score. Euploidy rate per biopsied blastocyst and live birth rate (LBR) per euploid single embryo transfer (SET) were the main outcomes. All significant associations were confirmed through regression analyses. All couple, cycle and embryo main features were also investigated for possible associations with blastocyst spontaneous collapse.
Main results and the role of chance: At least one collapsing embryo (either viable or subsequently undergoing degeneration) was recorded in 559 cycles (77.6%) and in 498 cycles (69.2%) if considering only viable blastocysts. The prevalence of blastocyst spontaneous collapse after the tSB, but before the achievement of full expansion, was 50% (N = 1168/2348), irrespective of cycle and/or couple characteristics. Blastocyst degeneration was 13% among non-collapsing embryos, while it was 18%, 20%, 26% and 39% among embryos collapsing once, twice, three times or ≥4 times, respectively. The results showed that 47.3% (N = 918/1943) of the viable blastocysts experienced at least one spontaneous collapse (ranging from 1 up to 9). Although starting from similar tSB, the number of spontaneous collapses was associated with a delay in both tEB and time of biopsy. Of note, the worse the quality of a blastocyst, the more and the longer its spontaneous collapses. Blastocyst spontaneous collapse was significantly associated with lower euploidy rates (47% in non-collapsing and 38%, 32%, 31% and 20% in blastocysts collapsing once, twice, three times or ≥4 times, respectively; multivariate odds ratio 0.78, 95%CI 0.62-0.98, adjusted P = 0.03). The difference in the LBR after euploid vitrified-warmed SET was not significant (46% and 39% in non-collapsing and collapsing blastocysts, respectively).
Limitations, reasons for caution: An association between chromosomal mosaicism and blastocyst collapse cannot be reliably assessed on a single TE biopsy. Gestational and perinatal outcomes were not evaluated. Other culture strategies and media should be tested for their association with blastocyst spontaneous collapse. Future studies with a larger sample size are needed to investigate putative impacts on clinical outcomes after euploid transfers.
Wider implications of the findings: These results demonstrate the synergistic power of TLM and AI to increase the throughput of embryo preimplantation development observation. They also highlight the transition from compaction to full blastocyst as a delicate morphogenetic process. Blastocyst spontaneous collapse is common and associates with inherently lower competence, but additional data are required to deepen our knowledge on its causes and consequences.
Study funding/competing interest(s): There is no external funding to report. I.E., A.B.-M., I.H.-V. and B.K. are Fairtility employees. I.E. and B.K. also have stock or stock options of Fairtility.
Trial registration number: N/A.
Keywords: artificial intelligence; blastocyst; blastocyst expansion; embryonic competence; embryos quality; euploidy; live birth; shrinkage; spontaneous collapse; time lapse microscopy.