Correlation between standard blastocyst morphology, euploidy and implantation: an observational study in two centers involving 956 screened blastocysts

Antonio Capalbo, Laura Rienzi, Danilo Cimadomo, Roberta Maggiulli, Thomas Elliott, Graham Wright, Zsolt Peter Nagy and Filippo Maria Ubaldi

Human Reproduction, Volume 29, Issue 6, pages 1173-1181 – Received October 4, 2013 – Revision received January 24, 2014 -Accepted January 29, 2014


STUDY QUESTION Does conventional blastocyst morphological evaluation correlate with euploidy (as assessed by comprehensive chromosome screening (CCS) of trophectoderm (TE) biopsies) and implantation potential?

SUMMARY ANSWER A moderate relation between blastocyst morphology and CCS data was observed but the ability to implant seems to be mainly determined by the chromosomal complement of preimplantation embryos rather than developmental and morphological parameters conventionally used for blastocyst evaluation.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY Combined with improving methods for cryopreservation and blastocyst culture, TE biopsy and CCS is considered to be a promising approach to select euploid embryos for transfer. Understanding the role of morphology in blastocyst stage preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) cycles may help in further optimizing the cycle management and clinical outcomes.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION This is a multicenter retrospective observational study performed between January 2009 and August 2013. The study includes the data analysis of 956 blastocysts with conclusive CCS results obtained from 213 patients following 223 PGS cycles. Single frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles of 215 euploid blastocysts were performed where it was possible to track the implantation outcome of each embryo transferred.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS PGS was offered to infertile patients of advanced maternal age (>35 years) and/or with a history of unsuccessful IVF treatments (more than two failed IVF cycles) and/or previous spontaneous abortion (more than two spontaneous miscarriages). Prior to TE biopsy for CCS, blastocyst morphology was assessed and categorized in four groups (excellent, good, average and poor quality). The developmental rate of each embryo reaching the expanded blastocyst stage was defined according to the day of biopsy post-fertilization. Day 5 and Day 6 biopsied blastocysts were defined as faster and slower growing embryos, respectively. A novel blastocyst biopsy method, not requiring the opening of the zona pellucida at the cleavage stage of embryo development, was used. Linear regression models were used to test the relationship between blastocyst morphology and developmental rate CCS data and FET cycle outcomes of euploid blastocysts.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE Among the embryological variables assessed (morphology and developmental rate), only blastocyst morphology was predictive of the CCS data. The euploidy rate was 56.4, 39.1, 42.8 and 25.5% in the excellent, good, average and poor blastocyst morphology groups, respectively. A diagnosis of complex aneuploidy was also associated with blastocyst morphology (P < 0.01) with 6.8, 15.2, 17.4 and 27.5% of excellent, good, average and poor quality embryos, respectively, showing multiple chromosome errors. Faster and slower growing embryos showed a similar aneuploidy rate. Regression logistic analysis showed that none of the parameters used for conventional blastocyst evaluation (morphology and developmental rate) was predictive of the implantation potential of euploid embryos. The implantation potential of euploid embryos was the same, despite different morphologies and developmental rates.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION The study is limited by its retrospective nature. A higher sample size or a prospective randomized design could be used in future studies to corroborate the current findings.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS This study provides knowledge for a better laboratory and clinical management of blastocyst stage PGS cycles suggesting that the commonly used parameters of blastocyst evaluation are not good enough indicators to improve the selection among euploid embryos. Accordingly, all poor morphology and slower growing expanded blastocysts should be biopsied and similarly considered for FET cycles. This knowledge will be of critical importance to achieve similar cumulative live birth rates in PGS programs compared with conventional IVF, avoiding the potential for exclusion of low quality but viable embryos from the biopsy and transfer procedures. Future research to identify non-invasive biomarkers of reproductive potential may further enhance selection among euploid blastocysts.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S) No funding was obtained for the study. All authors have no conflicts to declare.