Associations of blastocyst features, trophectoderm biopsy and other laboratory practice with post-warming behavior and implantation

Danilo Cimadomo, Antonio Capalbo, Paolo Emanuele Levi-Setti, Daria Soscia, Giovanna Orlando, Elena Albani, Valentina Parini, Marta Stoppa, Lisa Dovere, Luisa Tacconi, Elena Ievoli, Roberta Maggiulli, Filippo Maria Ubaldi, and Laura Rienzi

Human Reproduction, pp. 1–10, 2018 doi:10.1093/humrep/dey291 – Submitted on June 6, 2018; resubmitted on August 20, 2018; accepted on September 6, 2018


STUDY QUESTION: Are trophectoderm biopsy or other pre-vitrification features or laboratory practices associated with differences in blastocyst post-warming behavior (degeneration, re-expansion and live birth after single embryo transfer (SET))?

SUMMARY ANSWER: Blastocyst morphology, day of full development and artificial shrinkage (either laser-assisted or biopsy-induced) are the pre-vitrification parameters/practices most strongly associated with post-warming behavior and implantation potential while there was no association with trophectoderm biopsy.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Since the introduction of vitrification, the adoption of cycle segmentation, freeze-all and SET policies, as well of trophectoderm biopsy-based aneuploidy testing (i.e. pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidies (PGT-A)), the number of blastocysts vitrified worldwide has increased greatly. Previous studies already defined generally high blastocyst cryo-survival rates after vitrificationwarming (>95%), along with a positive correlation between blastocyst re-expansion and morphology with implantation. Additionally, artificial shrinkage has been outlined as a potentially beneficial procedure, while the association between embryo cryo-survival and trophectoderm biopsy is still unclear.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Cohort study conducted at two IVF centers (1 and 2). A total of 2129 consecutive SETs using vitrified-warmed blastocysts in either non-PGT or PGT-A cycles between June 2016 and August 2017 were included. A freeze-all strategy was in place and three main pre-vitrification practices were used: (i) no biopsy and no artificial shrinkage (Clinic 1); (ii) trophectoderm biopsy and vitrification of collapsed blastocyst within 30 min (Clinics 1 and 2); and (iii) no biopsy but laser-assisted artificial shrinkage (Clinic 2). The primary outcome was the blastocyst degeneration rate. Overall, 2108 surviving blastocysts were graded at 1.5 h after warming for degeneration (absent or partial) and re-expansion (full, partial or absent) grades and post-warming morphological quality. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to assess the association of any pre-vitrification feature with blastocyst post-warming behavior. The logistic regressions conducted upon live birth after either untested or euploid SET also included the post-warming characteristics.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Center 1 is a private IVF facility, while center 2 is the IVF facility of a University hospital. In non-PGT cycles, ICSI with blastocyst culture up to full-expansion and vitrification were performed. At center 1 the untested blastocysts were vitrified when still expanded, while at center 2 they underwent laser-assisted artificial shrinkage. In PGT-A cycles, in both clinics, trophectoderm biopsy (which involves laser-assisted shrinkage) was done without previous zona-opening on Day 3, and vitrification was performed within 30 min whilst the blastocyst remained collapsed. A qPCR-based chromosome analysis was conducted. Only SETs were performed (euploid-SET in case of PGT-A). Any cycle-, laboratory- and embryo-based feature which could impact blastocyst post-warming behavior was included in the analyses as putative confounder.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The overall degeneration rate was 1% (N = 21/2129). The results were consistent among different vitrification/warming operators or kits used, as well as any other IVF laboratory-related parameter. Blastocyst artificial shrinkage (either laser-assisted or biopsy-induced) involved a lower risk of degeneration after warming (odds ratio (OR) [95% CI] = 0.26 [0.09–0.79]). Conversely, both poor morphological quality pre-vitrification and taking 7 days to reach full blastulation resulted in a significantly higher risk (OR [95% CI] = 11.67 [3.42–39.83] and 4.43 [1.10–20.55], respectively). Importantly, trophectoderm biopsy did not show any association with blastocyst cryo-survival/degeneration. Overall 2.5% (N = 53/2108) blastocysts failed to re-expand post-warming. The only parameters significantly associated with no blastocyst re-expansion post-warming were average (OR [95% CI] = 4.96 [2.20–11.21]) or poor (OR [95% CI] = 19.54 [8.39–45.50]) morphological quality and taking 7 days to reach full blastulation (OR [95% CI] = 3.19 [1.23–8.29]), as well as prevention of spontaneous hatching pre-vitrification (OR [95% CI] = 0.10 [0.01–0.85]). The post-warming features of the survived blastocyst (i.e. degeneration and re-expansion scores and morphological quality) showed no significant association with vitrified blastocyst competence (i.e. live birth) when corrected for pre-vitrification ones (i.e. morphological quality, day of full development and, for untested SET, maternal age at oocyte retrieval). Of note, poor-quality blastocysts pre-vitrification showed a high overall cryo-survival rate postwarming 92.8% (N = 116/125), but the live birth rates were only 2.1% (N = 1/48) and 7.3% (N = 5/68) after untested and euploid SET, respectively.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: This study is not randomized and the populations of patients undergoing either non-PGT or PGT-A cycles were different. Centers 1 and 2 adopted different pre-vitrification practices for non-biopsied blastocysts, according to their own laboratory policy. To this regard, multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted for all outcomes under investigation.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Pre-vitrification features may be used to assist selection of competent embryos, moreover, these results allay concern that trophectoderm biopsy might be associated with impaired blastocyst quality or competence after vitrification/warming.



Key words: vitrification / blastocyst / single embryo transfer / artificial shrinkage / trophectoderm biopsy / embryo morphological quality / hatching / embryo cryo-survival / embryo post-warming behavior / PGT