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Abstract Study question What is the mechanism of embryo hatching? Will laser-assisted zona pellucida (ZP) drilling alter the embryonic transcriptome? Summary answer Hatching is an ATP-dependent process. Hatching is also associated with Rho-mediated signaling. Laser-assisted ZP drilling might cause alternation in embryo metabolism. What is known already Embryo hatching is a vital process for early embryo development and implantation. Animal data suggests that hatching is the result of multiple factors, such as mechanical pressure, protease activation, and the regulation of maternal secretions. However, little is known about the regulatory signaling mechanisms and the molecules involved. In addition, despite the extensive use of laser-assisted ZP drilling in the clinic, the safety profile of this technique at molecular level is very sparse. The impact of this technique on the embryonic transcriptome has not been studied systematically. Study design, size, duration Eighty mouse embryos were randomly divided into a laser ZP drilling group (n = 40) and an untreated group (n = 40). After treatment, embryos were cultured in vitro for two days. Then, hatching blastocyst (n = 8) and pre-hatching blastocyst (n = 8) from the untreated group, and the hatching blastocyst from the treatment group (n = 8) were processed for RNA sequencing (RNA-seq). Participants/materials, setting, methods Cryopreserved 8-cell stage mouse embryos (B6C3F1 × B6D2F1) were thawed, and a laser was used to drill the embryo ZP in the treatment group. Next, the treated and untreated embryos were individually cultured in vitro to the E4.5 blastocyst stage. The resulting blastocysts were lysed individually and used for subsequent cDNA library preparation and RNA-seq. Following data quality control and alignment, the RNA-seq data were processed for differentially expressed gene analysis and downstream functional analysis. Main results and the role of chance According to the RNA-seq data, 275 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) (230 up-regulated and 45 down-regulated, adjusted P < 0.05) were identified when comparing hatching and pre-hatching blastocysts in the control groups. Analysis suggested that the trophectoderm is the primary cell type involved in hatching, and revealed the potential molecules causing increased blastocyst hydrostatic pressure (Aqp3 and Cldn4). Functional enrichment analysis suggested that ATP metabolism and protein synthesis were activated in hatching blastocysts. DEGs were found to be significantly enriched in several gene ontology terms, particularly in terms of the organization of the cytoskeleton and actin polymerisation (P < 0.0001). Furthermore, according to QIAGEN ingenuity pathway analysis results, Rho signaling was implicated in blastocyst hatching (Actb, Arpc2, Cfl1, Myl6, Pfn1, Rnd3, Septin9, z-score=2.65, P < 0.0001). Moreover, the potential role of hormones (estrogen (z-score=2.24) and prolactin (z-score=2.4)) and growth factors (AGT (z-score=2.41) and FGF2 (z-score=2.213)) were implicated in the hatching process as indicated by the upstream regulator analysis. By comparing the transcriptome between laser-treated and untreated hatching blastocysts, 47 DEGs were identified (adjusted P < 0.05) following laser-assisted ZP drilling. These genes were enriched in metabolism-related pathways (P < 0.05), including the lipid metabolism pathway (Mvd, Mvk, Aacs, Gsk3a, Pik3c2a, Aldh9a1) and the xenobiotic metabolism pathway (Aldh18a1, Aldh9a1, Keap1, and Pik3c2a). Limitations, reasons for caution Findings in mouse embryos may not be fully representative of human embryos. Furthermore, the mechanism of hatching revealed here might only reflect the hatching process of embryos in vitro. Further studies are now necessary to confirm these findings in different conditions and species to determine their clinical significance. Wider implications of the findings: Our study profiled the mouse embryo transcriptome during in vitro hatching, identified potential key genes and mechanisms for future study. In addition, for the first time, we revealed the impact of laser-assisted ZP drilling on the transcriptome, this may help us to assess and improve the existing technique. Trial registration number Not applicable

Original publication




Journal article


Human Reproduction


Oxford University Press (OUP)

Publication Date