Time-lapse microscopy and image analysis in basic and clinical embryo development research

Reprod Biomed Online. 2013 Feb;26(2):120-9. doi: 10.1016/j.rbmo.2012.11.003. Epub 2012 Nov 20.


Mammalian preimplantation embryo development is a complex process in which the exact timing and sequence of events are as essential as the accurate execution of the events themselves. Time-lapse microscopy (TLM) is an ideal tool to study this process since the ability to capture images over time provides a combination of morphological, dynamic and quantitative information about developmental events. Here, we systematically review the application of TLM in basic and clinical embryo research. We identified all relevant preimplantation embryo TLM studies published in English up to May 2012 using PubMed and Google Scholar. We then analysed the technical challenges involved in embryo TLM studies and how these challenges may be overcome with technological innovations. Finally, we reviewed the different types of TLM embryo studies, with a special focus on how TLM can benefit clinical assisted reproduction. Although new parameters predictive of embryo development potential may be discovered and used clinically to potentially increase the success rate of IVF, adopting TLM to routine clinical practice will require innovations in both optics and image analysis. Combined with such innovations, TLM may provide embryologists and clinicians with an important tool for making critical decisions in assisted reproduction. In this review, we perform a literature search of all published early embryo development studies that used time-lapse microscopy (TLM). From the literature, we discuss the benefits of TLM over traditional time-point analysis, as well as the technical difficulties and solutions involved in implementing TLM for embryo studies. We further discuss research that has successfully derived non-invasive markers that may increase the success rate of assisted reproductive technologies, primarily IVF. Most notably, we extend our discussion to highlight important considerations for the practical use of TLM in research and clinical settings.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Biomedical Research
  • Embryo Culture Techniques
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted
  • Time-Lapse Imaging / methods*
  • Translational Medical Research


  • Biomarkers