Embryos and oocytes were first successfully cryopreserved more than 30 years ago, when Whittingham et al. 1 and Wilmut 2 separately described that mouse embryos could be frozen and stored at -196 °C and, a few years later, Parkening et al. 3 reported the birth of live offspring resulting from in vitro fertilization (IVF) of cryopreserved oocytes. Since then, the use of cryopreservation techniques has rapidly spread to become an essential component in the practice of human and animal assisted reproduction and in the conservation of animal genetic resources. Currently, there are two main methods used to cryopreserve oocytes and embryos: slow freezing and vitrification. A wide variety of approaches have been used to try to improve both techniques and millions of animals and thousands of children have been born from cryopreserved embryos. However, important shortcomings associated to cryopreservation still have to be overcome, since ice-crystal formation, solution effects and osmotic shock seem to cause several cryoinjuries in post-thawed oocytes and embryos. Slow freezing with programmable freezers has the advantage of using low concentrations of cryoprotectants, which are usually associated with chemical toxicity and osmotic shock, but their ability to avoid ice-crystal formation at low concentrations is limited. Slow freezing also induces supercooling effects that must be avoided using manual or automatic seeding 4. In the vitrification process, high concentrations of cryoprotectants inhibit the formation of ice-crystals and lead to the formation of a glasslike vitrified state in which water is solidified, but not expanded. However, due to the toxicity of cyroprotectants at the concentrations used, oocytes/embryos can only be exposed to the cryoprotectant solution for a very short period of time and in a minimum volume solution, before submerging the samples directly in liquid nitrogen 5. In the last decade, vitrification has become more popular because it is a very quick method in which no expensive equipment (programmable freezer) is required. However, slow freezing continues to be the most widely used method for oocyte/embryo cryopreservation. In this video-article we show, step-by-step, how to collect and slowly freeze hamster oocytes with high post-thaw survival rates. The same procedure can also be applied to successfully freeze and thaw mouse embryos at different stages of preimplantation development. © JoVE 2006-2011 All Rights Reserved.
- Developmental biology
- Issue 25