The role of mitochondrial function in the oocyte and embryo

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2007:77:21-49. doi: 10.1016/S0070-2153(06)77002-8.


Mitochondria have long been known to be the powerhouses of the cell but they also contribute to redox and Ca2+ homeostasis, provide intermediary metabolites and store proapoptotic factors. Mitochondria have a unique behavior during development. They are maternally transmitted with little (if any) paternal contribution, and they originate from a restricted founder population, which is amplified during oogenesis. Then, having established the full complement of mitochondria in the fully grown oocyte, there is no further increase of the mitochondrial population during early development. The localization of mitochondria in the egg during maturation and their segregation to blastomeres in the cleaving embryo are strictly regulated. Gradients in the distribution of mitochondria present in the egg have the potential to give rise to blastomeres receiving different numbers of mitochondria. Such maternally inherited differences in mitochondrial distribution are thought to play roles in defining the long-term viability of the blastomere in some cases and embryonic axes and patterning in others. Mitochondria may also regulate development by a number of other means, including modulating Ca2+ signaling, and the production of ATP, reactive oxygen species, and intermediary metabolites. If the participation of mitochondria in the regulation of sperm-triggered Ca2+ oscillations is now well established, the role of other properties of mitochondrial function during development remain largely unexplored probably due to the difficulty of accessing the mitochondrial compartment in an embryo. Maintaining a functional complement of maternally derived mitochondria is vital for the early embryo. Mitochondrial dysfunction may not only compromise developmental processes but also trigger apoptosis in the embryo. This dual role for mitochondria (to maintain life or to commit to cell death) may well represent a quality control system in the early embryo that will determine whether the embryo proceeds further into development or is quickly eliminated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oocytes / cytology*
  • Oocytes / metabolism*


  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Calcium