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Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2014 May 10;12:38. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-12-38.

Early detection and staging of spontaneous embryo resorption by ultrasound biomicroscopy in murine pregnancy.

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Department Reproduction Management, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Alfred-Kowalke-Str, 17, 10315 Berlin, Germany.



Embryo resorption is a major problem in human medicine, agricultural animal production and in conservation breeding programs. Underlying mechanisms have been investigated in the well characterised mouse model. However, post mortem studies are limited by the rapid disintegration of embryonic structures. A method to reliably identify embryo resorption in alive animals has not been established yet. In our study we aim to detect embryos undergoing resorption in vivo at the earliest possible stage by ultra-high frequency ultrasound.


In a longitudinal study, we monitored 30 pregnancies of wild type C57BI/6 mice using ultra-high frequency ultrasound (30-70 MHz), so called ultrasound biomicroscopy (UBM). We compared the sonoembryology of mouse conceptuses under spontaneous resorption and neighbouring healthy conceptuses and correlated the live ultrasound data with the respective histology.


The process of embryo resorption comprised of four stages: first, the conceptus exhibited growth retardation, second, bradycardia and pericardial edema were observed, third, further development ceased and the embryo died, and finally embryo remnants were resorbed by maternal immune cells. In early gestation (day 7 and 8), growth retardation was characterized by a small embryonic cavity. The embryo and its membranes were ill defined or did not develop at all. The echodensity of the embryonic fluid increased and within one to two days, the embryo and its cavity disappeared and was transformed into echodense tissue surrounded by fluid filled caverns. In corresponding histologic preparations, fibrinoid material interspersed with maternal granulocytes and lacunae filled with maternal blood were observed. In later stages (day 9-11) resorption prone embryos were one day behind in their development compared to their normal siblings. The space between Reichert's membrane and inner yolk sac membrane was enlarged The growth retarded embryos exhibited bradycardia and ultimately cessation of heart beat. Corresponding histology showed apoptotic cells in the embryo while the placenta was still intact. In the subsequent resorption process first the embryo and then its membranes disappeared.


Our results provide a temporal time course of embryo resorption. With this method, animals exhibiting embryo resorption can be targeted, enabling the investigation of underlying mechanisms before the onset of total embryo disintegration.

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