Monash discovery may help unlock the key to infertility in older women

May 18, 2017
Securin is important for both egg divisions but in old eggs, it appears that there is insufficient securin remaining to ensure meiosis II takes place normally. Credit: Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Findings from new research led by the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) and University College London may finally resolve, and potentially provide answers, as to why older women have higher incidences of miscarriage and have babies with chromosomal abnormalities.

Female fertility declines rapidly after the age of 37—with women over 42 having only a five per cent chance of having a baby without fertility treatment. The problem is that as a woman ages, her also age—increasing the chances of chromosomal abnormalities. This leads to an increase in conditions such as Down's syndrome, where the egg has three copies of chromosome 21. However most chromosomal abnormalities in eggs lead to embryos that either fail to implant in the womb, or miscarry soon after implantation. In women over 40 most miscarriages are caused by the wrong number of chromosomes being present in the egg.

In a paper published today in Nature Communications, Professor John Carroll from the Monash BDI, together with an international team of collaborators, reveal a fault in how the egg controls the levels of a protein called securin. In the final stages of just before ovulation, it undergoes two specialised cell divisions known as meiosis I and meiosis II. Securin is important for both divisions but in old eggs, it appears that there is insufficient securin remaining to ensure meiosis II takes place normally.

Most chromosome abnormalities occur in the first egg division (meiosis I) but it is known that a substantial number of abnormalities also occur during meiosis II. Dr Ibtissem Nabti and Professor Carroll's experiments help explain why things go wrong in this second division. In these older women the chromosomes in their eggs start to fall apart because there is insufficient securin to control the process. Dr Nabti, formerly from University College London, is currently at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University.

The discovery opens the way to improving an older woman's chances of having eggs with fewer chromosomal abnormalities through regulating the processes that control securin levels in the two divisions of the egg or controlling the protein that securin regulates (a protein called separase).

According to Professor Carroll, new therapeutic approaches to improving egg quality in older women is very important at a time when the age at which are having their first baby is increasing.

"It is immensely challenging because any treatments need to be safe for the egg and subseqents embryo and would usually need to be applied while the egg is in the ovary," Professor Carroll said.

"It may one day be possible to perform treatments in-vitro (in the laboratory) but human in-vitro egg maturation is not yet very successful."

The research team is working with Monash IVF to improve in vitro maturation and identify new targets that may be able to better control prevent the degradation of Securin, according to Professor Carroll.

"Now that we have an idea of at least one of the causes of the increased incidence of and miscarriages in , we can attempt to find ways to prevent this happening," Professor Carroll said.

Explore further: A more detailed understanding of cell divisions giving rise to sperm and egg cells could lead to infertility treatments

More information: Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15346

Related Stories

Ladies, this is why fertility declines with age

April 3, 2017

Researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center (CRCHUM) have discovered a possible new explanation for female infertility. Thanks to cutting-edge microscopy techniques, they observed for the first time ...

Recommended for you

Opioids following cesarean delivery may be over-prescribed

June 8, 2017

Cesarean delivery is the most common inpatient surgical procedure in the United States, with 1.4 million c-sections performed each year. Opioids, most commonly oxycodone, are the standard pain medications prescribed to women ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

michael_frishberg
not rated yet May 18, 2017
"Now that we have an idea...we can attempt to find ways to prevent this happening," Professor Carroll said.
Does anyone ask why 'treating' this is a good idea?
Why should women be able to have children into their 50's if their body isn't fertile anymore?
MarsBars
not rated yet May 19, 2017
Why should women be able to ...

Are you a woman, Michael? No?
Then please take a back seat.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.