Purpose Only 50–60 % of immature human oocytes attain the mature stage in vitro. Such a deficiency may be a reflection of inadequate conditions of in vitro maturation (IVM) or a manifestation of intrinsic oocyte defects. In the present study, we explored the possibility that the DNA of immature oocytes may be damaged and that such a condition, or inability to trigger a repair action, is associated to germinal vesicle (GV) arrest.
Methods Immature oocytes (GV-stage oocytes) were obtained from women undergoing stimulated (Stim-C) or IVM (IVM-C) cycles. GV oocytes obtained from stimulated cycles were fixed for successive analysis either after recovery (T0) or following 30 h (T30) of culture if still arrested at the GV stage. Oocytes retrieved in IVM cycles were used only if they were found arrested at the GV stage after 30 h (T30) of culture. All oocytes were fixed and stained to detect chromatin and actin. They were also assessed for positivity to γH2AX and Rad51, markers revealing the presence of double-strand DNA breaks and the activation of a DNA repair response, respectively. Labelled oocytes were analysed using a Leica TCS SP2 laser scanning confocal microscope.
Results In Stim-C oocytes, γH2AX positivity was 47.5 and 81.5 % in the T0 and T30 groups, respectively (P = 0.003), while γH2AX-positive oocytes were 58.3 % in the IVM-C T30 group (Stim-C T0 vs. IVM-C T30, P = 0.178; Stim-C T30 vs. IVM-C T30, P = 0.035). Positivity for nuclear staining to Rad51 occurred in 42.1 and 74.1 % of Stim-C in the T0 and T30 subgroups, respectively (T = 0.006), while 66.7 % of IVM-C T30 oocytes resulted positive for a DNA repair response (Stim-C T0 vs. IVM-C T30, P = 0.010; Stim-C T30 vs. IVM-C T30, P = 0.345).
Conclusions The present data document the existence of double-strand DNA breaks (DSBs) in human immature oocytes. Also, they are consistent with the hypothesis that insults to DNA integrity may be an important factor affecting meiotic resumption.