Chromosome errors in human eggs shape natural fertility over reproductive life span

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Science  27 Sep 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6460, pp. 1466-1469
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7321

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Understanding fertility in young and old

Fertility in humans follows a U-curve, with low rates in both teenagers and women of advancing maternal age (mid-30s and above). Gruhn et al. found that this distinct shape originates from chromosomal errors in human eggs, which result in genomic imbalance and pregnancy loss. The error types and chromosomes affected in the young and advanced age groups were different, suggesting that two distinct chromosome-based mechanisms balance risk associated with pregnancy and evolutionary fitness as women enter and exit their reproductive life span. The authors show that chromosome structure erodes only with advancing age, acting as a “molecular clock” for reproductive senescence.

Science, this issue p. 1466


Chromosome errors, or aneuploidy, affect an exceptionally high number of human conceptions, causing pregnancy loss and congenital disorders. Here, we have followed chromosome segregation in human oocytes from females aged 9 to 43 years and report that aneuploidy follows a U-curve. Specific segregation error types show different age dependencies, providing a quantitative explanation for the U-curve. Whole-chromosome nondisjunction events are preferentially associated with increased aneuploidy in young girls, whereas centromeric and more extensive cohesion loss limit fertility as women age. Our findings suggest that chromosomal errors originating in oocytes determine the curve of natural fertility in humans.

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