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Reprod Sci. 2016 Dec;23(12):1612-1615.

Telomeres, Reproductive Aging, and Genomic Instability During Early Development.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY, USA


Implantation rate decreases and miscarriage rate increases with advancing maternal age. The oocyte must be the locus of reproductive aging because donation of oocytes from younger to older women abrogates the effects of aging on fecundity. Nuclear transfer experiments in a mouse model of reproductive aging show that the reproductive aging phenotype segregates with the nucleus rather than the cytoplasm. A number of factors within the nucleus have been hypothesized to mediate reproductive aging, including disruption of cohesions, reduced chiasma, aneuploidy, disrupted meiotic spindles, and DNA damage caused by chronic exposure to reactive oxygen species. We have proposed telomere attrition as a parsimonious way to explain these diverse effects of aging on oocyte function. Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA and associated proteins, which form a loop (t loop) at chromosome ends. Telomeres prevent the blunt end of DNA from triggering a DNA damage response. Previously, we showed that experimental telomere shortening phenocopies reproductive aging in mice. Telomere shortening causes reduced synapsis and chiasma, chromosome fusions, embryo arrest and fragmentation, and abnormal meiotic spindles. Telomere length of polar bodies predicts the fragmentation of human embryos. Telomerase, the reverse transcriptase capable of reconstituting shortened telomeres, is only minimally active in oocytes and preimplantation embryos. Intriguingly, during the first cell cycles following activation, telomeres robustly elongate via a DNA double-strand break mechanism called alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALTs). Alternative lengthening of telomere takes place even in telomerase-null mice. This mechanism of telomere elongation previously had been found only in cancer cells lacking telomerase activity. We propose that ALT elongates telomeres across generations but does so at the cost of extensive genomic instability in preimplantation embryos.


embryos; genomic instability; oocytes; reproductive aging; telomeres

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