The proliferative phase endometrium in IVF/ICSI: an in-cycle molecular analysis predictive of the outcome following fresh embryo transfer

S. Mackens*, S. Santos-Ribeiro, A. Racca, D. Daneels, A. Koch, W. Essahib, W. Verpoest, C. Bourgain, I. Van Riet, H. Tournaye, J.J. Brosens, Y.H. Lee, C. Blockeel, H. Van de Velde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)


Study question Does an early proliferative phase endometrial biopsy harvested during ovarian stimulation harbour information predictive of the outcome following fresh embryo transfer (ET) in that same cycle?Summary answer Transcriptome analysis of the whole-tissue endometrium did not reveal significant differential gene expression (DGE) in relation to the outcome; however, the secretome profile of isolated, cultured and in vitro decidualized endometrial stromal cells (EnSCs) varied significantly between patients who had a live birth compared to those with an implantation failure following fresh ET in the same cycle as the biopsy.What is known already In the majority of endometrial receptivity research protocols, biopsies are harvested during the window of implantation (WOI). This, however, precludes ET in that same cycle, which is preferable as the endometrium has been shown to adapt over time. Endometrial biopsies taken during ovarian stimulation have been reported not to harm the chances of implantation, and in such biopsies DGE has been observed between women who achieve pregnancy versus those who do not. The impact of the endometrial proliferative phase on human embryo implantation remains unclear, but deserves further attention, especially since in luteal phase endometrial biopsies, a transcriptional signature predictive for repeated implantation failure has been associated with reduced cell proliferation, possibly indicating proliferative phase involvement. Isolation, culture and in vitro decidualization (IVD) of EnSCs is a frequently applied basic research technique to assess endometrial functioning, and a disordered EnSC secretome has previously been linked with failed implantation.Study design, size, duration This study was nested in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) investigating the effect of endometrial scratching during the early follicular phase of ovarian stimulation on clinical pregnancy rates after IVF/ICSI. Of the 96 endometrial biopsies available, after eliminating those without fresh ET and after extensive matching in order to minimize the risk of potential confounding, 18 samples were retained to study two clinical groups: nine biopsies of patients with a live birth versus nine biopsies of patients with an implantation failure, both following fresh ET performed in the same cycle as the biopsy. We studied the proliferative endometrium by analysing its transcriptome and by isolating, culturing and decidualizing EnSCs in vitro. We applied this latter technique for the first time on proliferative endometrial biopsies obtained during ovarian stimulation for in-cycle outcome prediction, in an attempt to overcome inter-cycle variability.Participants/materials, setting, methods RNA-sequencing was performed for 18 individual whole-tissue endometrial biopsies on an Illumina HiSeq1500 machine. DGE was analysed three times using different approaches (DESeq2, EdgeR and the Wilcoxon rank-sum test, all in R). EnSC isolation and IVD was performed (for 2 and 4 days) for a subset of nine samples, after which media from undifferentiated and decidualized cultures were harvested, stored at -80 degrees C and later assayed for 45 cytokines using a multiplex suspension bead immunoassay. The analysis was performed by partial least squares regression modelling.Main results and the role of chance After correction for multiple hypothesis testing, DGE analysis revealed no significant differences between endometrial samples from patients who had a live birth and those with an implantation failure following fresh ET. However secretome analysis after EnSC isolation and culture, showed two distinct clusters that clearly corresponded to the two clinical groups. Upon IVD, the secretome profiles shifted from that of undifferentiated cells but the difference between the two clinical groups remained yet were muted, suggesting convergence of cytokine profiles after decidualization.Limitations, reasons for caution Caution is warranted due to the limited sample size of the study and the in vitro nature of the EnSC experiment. Validation on a larger scale is necessary, however, hard to fulfil given the very limited availability of in-cycle proliferative endometrial biopsies outside a RCT setting.Wider implications of the findings These data support the hypothesis that the endometrium should be assessed not only during the WOI and that certain endometrial dysfunctionalities can probably be detected early in a cycle by making use of the proliferative phase. This insight opens new horizons for the development of endometrial tests, whether diagnostic or predictive of IVF/ICSI treatment outcome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-144
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • controlled ovarian hyperstimulation
  • embryo transfer
  • endometrial receptivity
  • endometrium
  • gene-expression profiles
  • gnrh antagonist
  • icsi outcome
  • implantation
  • ivf
  • receptivity
  • receptors
  • rna-seq
  • stimulation
  • tool
  • window
  • women
  • TOOL

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