Morphological and morphokinetic associations with aneuploidy: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Thomas Bamford, Amy Barrie, Sue Montgomery, Rima Dhillon-Smith, Alison Campbell, Christina Easter, Arri Coomarasamy

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BACKGROUND: A time lapse system (TLS) is utilized in some fertility clinics with the aim of predicting embryo viability and chance of live birth during IVF. It has been hypothesized that aneuploid embryos display altered morphokinetics as a consequence of their abnormal chromosome complement. Since aneuploidy is one of the fundamental reasons for IVF failure and miscarriage, attention has focused on utilizing morphokinetics to develop models to non-invasively risk stratify embryos for ploidy status. This could avoid or reduce the costs associated with pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A). Furthermore, TLS have provided an understanding of the true prevalence of other dysmorphisms. Hypothetically, the incorporation of morphological features into a model could act synergistically, improving a model's discriminative ability to predict ploidy status.

OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to investigate associations between ploidy status and morphokinetic or morphological features commonly denoted on a TLS. This will determine the feasibility of a prediction model for euploidy and summarize the most useful prognostic markers to be included in model development.

SEARCH METHODS: Five separate searches were conducted in Medline, Embase, PubMed and Cinahl from inception to 1 July 2021. Search terms and word variants included, among others, PGT-A, ploidy, morphokinetics and time lapse, and the latter were successively substituted for the following morphological parameters: fragmentation, multinucleation, abnormal cleavage and contraction. Studies were limited to human studies.

OUTCOMES: Overall, 58 studies were included incorporating over 40 000 embryos. All except one study had a moderate risk of bias in at least one domain when assessed by the quality in prognostic studies tool. Ten morphokinetic variables were significantly delayed in aneuploid embryos. When excluding studies using less reliable genetic technologies, the most notable variables were: time to eight cells (t8, 1.13 h, 95% CI: 0.21-2.05; three studies; n = 742; I2 = 0%), t9 (2.27 h, 95% CI: 0.5-4.03; two studies; n = 671; I2 = 33%), time to formation of a full blastocyst (tB, 1.99 h, 95% CI 0.15-3.81; four studies; n = 1640; I2 = 76%) and time to expanded blastocyst (tEB, 2.35 h, 95% CI: 0.06-4.63; four studies; n = 1640; I2 = 83%). There is potentially some prognostic potential in the degree of fragmentation, multinucleation persisting to the four-cell stage and frequency of embryo contractions. Reverse cleavage was associated with euploidy in this meta-analysis; however, this article argues that these are likely spurious results requiring further investigation. There was no association with direct unequal cleavage in an embryo that progressed to a blastocyst, or with multinucleation assessed on Day 2 or at the two-cell stage. However, owing to heterogeneous results and poor-quality evidence, associations between these morphological components needs to be investigated further before conclusions can be reliably drawn.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS: This first systematic review and meta-analysis of morphological and morphokinetic associations with ploidy status demonstrates the most useful morphokinetic variables, namely t8, t9 and tEB to be included in future model development. There is considerable variability within aneuploid and euploid embryos making definitively classifying them impossible; however, it is feasible that embryos could be prioritized for biopsy. Furthermore, these results support the mechanism by which algorithms for live birth may have predictive ability, suggesting aneuploidy causes delayed cytokinesis. We highlight significant heterogeneity in our results secondary to local conditions and diverse patient populations, therefore calling for future models to be robustly developed and tested in-house. If successful, such a model would constitute a meaningful breakthrough when accessing PGT-A is unsuitable for couples.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdmac022
Pages (from-to)656-686
Number of pages31
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number5
Early online date25 May 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2022

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:


  • abnormal cleavage
  • contraction
  • fragmentation
  • model
  • morphokinetics
  • multinucleation
  • ploidy
  • time-lapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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