Embryo quality is a critical parameter in assisted reproductive technologies. Although embryo quality can be evaluated morphologically, embryo morphology does not correlate perfectly with embryo viability. To improve this, it is important to understand which molecular mechanisms are involved in embryo quality control. Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved catabolic process in which cytoplasmic materials sequestered by autophagosomes are degraded in lysosomes. We previously demonstrated that autophagy is highly activated after fertilization and is essential for further embryonic development. Here, we developed a simple fluorescence-based method for visualizing autophagic activity in live mouse embryos. Our method is based on imaging of the fluorescence intensity of GFP-LC3, a versatile marker for autophagy, which is microinjected into the embryos. Using this method, we show that embryonic autophagic activity declines with advancing maternal age, probably due to a decline in the activity of lysosomal hydrolases. We also demonstrate that embryonic autophagic activity is associated with the developmental viability of the embryo. Our results suggest that embryonic autophagic activity can be utilized as a novel indicator of embryo quality.
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