Reproductive ageing in women, particularly after the age of 35, is associated with an exponential increase in the proportion of chromosomally abnormal oocytes produced. Several hypotheses have attempted to explain this observation, including the 'limited oocyte pool' hypothesis and the 'two-hit' hypothesis, the latter explaining that a depletion in oocyte quality with age results from the multiple opportune stages for errors to occur in meiosis. Recently however, the telomere theory of reproductive ageing in women has been proposed. This suggests that shortened telomeres in oocytes of women of advanced maternal age render oocytes unable to support fertilization and embryogenesis. Despite a credible rationale for the telomere theory of reproductive ageing in women, very few studies have assessed telomere length directly in human oocytes or preimplantation embryos. Therefore, we directly assessed relative telomere length in first polar bodies and blastomeres from cleavage stage (day 3) embryos. In both cell types we tested the hypothesis that (1) older women have shorter telomeres and (2) chromosomally abnormal (aneuploid) gametes/embryos have shorter telomeres. In all cases, we found no evidence of altered telomere length associated with age-related aneuploidy.
Keywords: aneuploidy; blastomeres; first polar bodies; reproductive ageing; telomere length.