Spontaneous and artificial changes in human ooplasmic mitochondria

Hum Reprod. 2000 Jul:15 Suppl 2:207-17. doi: 10.1093/humrep/15.suppl_2.207.


Our research has focused on promoting the development of compromised embryos by transferring presumably normal ooplasm, including mitochondria, to oocytes during intracytoplasmic insemination. Because of the enigma of mitochondrial heteroplasmy, the mixing of populations of oocyte cytoplasm has provoked considerable debate. We are currently investigating oocyte mitochondrial (mt) DNA mutations and the effects of ooplasmic transplantation on mitochondrial inheritance and mitochondrial functionality. Ageing human oocytes could accumulate mtDNA deletions, which might lead to detrimental development. Elimination of abnormal, rearranged mtDNA, such that the offspring inherit only normal mitochondria, is postulated to occur by a mtDNA 'bottleneck'. Among compromised human oocytes (n = 74) and early embryos (n = 137), investigations have shown the occurrence of deltamtDNA4977, the so-called common deletion, to be 33% among oocytes and 8% among embryos. Using a nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) strategy of long followed by short PCR, another 23 novel mtDNA rearrangements were found: various rearrangements were present in 51% of the oocytes (n = 295) and 32% of early embryos (n = 197). The difference in the percentage of mtDNA rearrangements between oocytes and embryos was significant (P < 0.0001) and implies that there could be a process of selection as fertilized oocytes become embryos. There was no significant relationship between the percentage of human oocytes or embryos that contained mtDNA rearrangements and age. The first series of ooplasmic transfers have been performed in women with repeated implantation failure associated with slow and morphologically abnormal development of their embryos. In a total of 23 attempts in 21 women, eight healthy babies have been born and other pregnancies are ongoing. By examining the donor and recipient blood samples it is possible to distinguish differences in their mtDNA fingerprint. A small proportion of donor mitochondrial DNA was detected in samples with the following frequencies: embryos (six out of 13), amniocytes (one out of four), placenta (two out of four), and fetal cord blood (two out of four). Ooplasmic transfer can thus result in sustained mtDNA heteroplasmy representing both the donor and recipient.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Cytoplasm / transplantation*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • Electrophoresis, Agar Gel
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism
  • Extrachromosomal Inheritance / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Rearrangement*
  • Humans
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • DNA, Mitochondrial