Assessing heterogeneity among single embryos and single blastomeres using open microfluidic design

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Science Advances  22 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 17, eaay1751
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay1751


The process by which a zygote develops from a single cell into a multicellular organism is poorly understood. Advances are hindered by detection specificity and sensitivity limitations of single-cell protein tools and by challenges in integrating multimodal data. We introduce an open microfluidic tool expressly designed for same-cell phenotypic, protein, and mRNA profiling. We examine difficult-to-study—yet critically important—murine preimplantation embryo stages. In blastomeres dissociated from less well-studied two-cell embryos, we observe no significant GADD45a protein expression heterogeneity, apparent at the four-cell stage. In oocytes, we detect differences in full-length versus truncated DICER-1 mRNA and protein, which are insignificant by the two-cell stage. Single-embryo analyses reveal intraembryonic heterogeneity, differences between embryos of the same fertilization event and between donors, and reductions in the burden of animal sacrifice. Open microfluidic design integrates with existing workflows and opens new avenues for assessing the cellular-to-molecular heterogeneity inherent to preimplantation embryo development.

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