The fertilization-induced zinc spark is a novel biomarker of mouse embryo quality and early development

Sci Rep. 2016 Mar 18;6:22772. doi: 10.1038/srep22772.


Upon activation, mammalian eggs release billions of zinc ions in an exocytotic event termed the "zinc spark." The zinc spark is dependent on and occurs coordinately with intracellular calcium transients, which are tightly associated with embryonic development. Thus, we hypothesized that the zinc spark represents an early extracellular physicochemical marker of the developmental potential of the zygote. To test this hypothesis, we monitored zinc exocytosis in individual mouse eggs following parthenogenetic activation or in vitro fertilization (IVF) and tracked their development. Retrospective analysis of zinc spark profiles revealed that parthenotes and zygotes that developed into blastocysts released more zinc than those that failed to develop. Prospective selection of embryos based on their zinc spark profile significantly improved developmental outcomes and more than doubled the percentage of embryos that reached the blastocyst stage. Moreover, the zinc spark profile was also associated with embryo quality as the total cell number in the resulting morulae and blastocysts positively correlated with the zinc spark amplitude (R = 0.9209). Zinc sparks can thus serve as an early biomarker of zygote quality in mouse model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Blastocyst / chemistry
  • Blastocyst / cytology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Culture Media / chemistry
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro / methods*
  • Ionomycin / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Parthenogenesis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Zinc / analysis*


  • Biomarkers
  • Culture Media
  • Ionomycin
  • Zinc