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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 9;115(41):10375-10380. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1719930115. Epub 2018 Sep 19.

Mechanics of mouse blastocyst hatching revealed by a hydrogel-based microdeformation assay.

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Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QX, United Kingdom.
Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7BN, United Kingdom.
Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, CB2 1PZ Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QX, United Kingdom;


Mammalian embryos are surrounded by an acellular shell, the zona pellucida. Hatching out of the zona is crucial for implantation and continued development of the embryo. Clinically, problems in hatching can contribute to failure in assisted reproductive intervention. Although hatching is fundamentally a mechanical process, due to limitations in methodology most studies focus on its biochemical properties. To understand the role of mechanical forces in hatching, we developed a hydrogel deformation-based method and analytical approach for measuring pressure in cyst-like tissues. Using this approach, we found that, in cultured blastocysts, pressure increased linearly, with intermittent falls. Inhibition of Na/K-ATPase led to a dosage-dependent reduction in blastocyst cavity pressure, consistent with its requirement for cavity formation. Reducing blastocyst pressure reduced the probability of hatching, highlighting the importance of mechanical forces in hatching. These measurements allowed us to infer details of microphysiology such as osmolarity, ion and water transport kinetics across the trophectoderm, and zona stiffness, allowing us to model the embryo as a thin-shell pressure vessel. We applied this technique to test whether cryopreservation, a process commonly used in assisted reproductive technology (ART), leads to alteration of the embryo and found that thawed embryos generated significantly lower pressure than fresh embryos, a previously unknown effect of cryopreservation. We show that reduced pressure is linked to delayed hatching. Our approach can be used to optimize in vitro fertilization (IVF) using precise measurement of embryo microphysiology. It is also applicable to other biological systems involving cavity formation, providing an approach for measuring forces in diverse contexts.


embryo cryopreservation; hydrogel deformation; mammalian embryo hatching; mouse blastocyst; pressure measurement

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