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There is a worldwide trend for women to have their first pregnancy later in life. However, as oocyte quality declines with maternal aging, this trend leads to an increase in subfertility. The cellular mechanisms underlying this decline in oocyte competence are poorly understood. Oocyte mitochondria are the subcellular organelles that supply the energy that drives early embryogenesis, and thus their quality is critical for successful conception. Mitochondria contain their own DNA (mtDNA) and mutations in mtDNA cause mitochondrial diseases with severe symptoms, such as neurodegeneration and heart disease. Since mitochondrial function declines in tissues as humans age accompanied by an accumulation of mtDNA mutations, mtDNA is implicated as a cause of declining oocyte quality in older mothers. While this mutation load could be caused by declining accuracy of the mitochondrial replisome, age-related decline in mitochondrial quality control likely contributes, however knowledge is lacking. Mitophagy, a cellular process which specifically targets and recycles damaged mitochondria may be involved, but studies are scarce. And although assisted reproductive technologies can help older mothers, how these techniques affect the mechanisms that regulate mitochondrial and oocyte quality have not been studied. With the long-term goal of understanding the molecular mechanisms that control mitochondrial quality in the oocyte, model systems including Drosophila and mouse as well as human oocytes have been used. In this review, we explore the contribution of mitophagy to oocyte quality and the need for further systematic investigation in oocytes during maternal aging using different systems. LAY SUMMARY: Mitochondria are small parts of cells called organelles that generate the chemical energy needed for life. Hundreds of thousands of mitochondria in the developing eggs of the mother support the initial growth and development of the fertilized egg. However, due to increasingly diminished function over time, mitochondria generate less energy as we age, posing real problems for older women considering pregnancy. It is possible that this declining energy could be responsible for declining fertility as women age. Energy may decline because mitochondria fail and the cell's way of keeping them healthy become less efficient as we age. This review summarizes what is known about mitochondrial quality control in developing eggs as they age. In the future, understanding how the best mitochondria are selected and maintained in the egg, and hence the future baby, may enable older women with or without mitochondrial problems, to have healthy children.

Original publication




Journal article


Reprod Fertil

Publication Date





R113 - R129


ARTs, Drosophila, human, mitochondria, mitophagy, mouse, mtDNA, oocyte, ovary