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Theriogenology. 2002 Jan 1;57(1):87-96.

High rates of embryonic loss, yet high incidence of multiple births in human ART: is this paradoxical?

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Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Humans have low natural fecundity, as the probability of establishing a viable conception in any one menstrual cycle is 20-25% for a healthy, fertile couple. There are numerous underlying causes for this low rate of human fertility, not the least of which are intrinsic abnormalities within the oocyte and/or embryo, which likely account for greater than 50% of failed conceptions. During assisted reproduction technology (ART) interventions, controlled ovarian stimulation is used to obtain several oocytes in attempts to increase the likelihood of having at least one developmentally competent embryo available for transfer. However, current techniques for identifying the competent embryo(s) are by no means perfect. These limitations, coupled with pressures to maximize the chance of pregnancy, typically result in the transfer of multiple embryos. Not surprisingly, this practice has resulted in an unacceptably high rate of multiple pregnancies arising from ART. During the last few years, concerted efforts have focused on reducing these rates. Programs for ART are developing patient-specific policies, restricting the number of embryos to transfer. In addition, strategies are being adopted to improve the accuracy for selecting viable embryos for transfer. One such strategy involves further refinement of morphological criteria associated with improved viability by considering, for example, pronuclei disposition, nucleolar organization, and identification of the fast-cleaving embryos with only mononucleate blastomeres. Another strategy employs pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) whereby a biopsied blastomere is tested for ploidy using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). A final strategy involves extending the duration of culture to the blastocyst stage, thereby allowing self-selection of those embryos capable of proceeding to blastulation and exclusion of those less viable embryos that succumb to developmental arrest. Together, these strategies are enabling fewer embryos of higher quality to be transferred. Accordingly, the overall pregnancy rate from ART continues to increase, while the rate of triplet and higher order multiple births continues to decline. Nevertheless, the high incidence of intrinsic developmental anomalies in human oocytes inevitably will continue to result in a high degree of embryonic loss in ART.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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