Successful embryo and fetal development is dependent on the quality of the oocyte from which it was derived. Several studies to date have demonstrated the link between appropriate metabolism and sufficient ATP production with oocyte quality and preimplantation embryo development. Metabolism of fatty acids for the purpose of synthesizing ATP occurs within mitochondria via β-oxidation and entry of fatty acids into this organelle is the rate-limiting step in this process. Transport of activated fatty acids into mitochondria is catalyzed by carnitine palmitoyl transferase-I (CPTI) which also requires the metabolite carnitine. Once inside the mitochondrial matrix, fatty acids are broken down into acetyl CoA molecules which are further metabolized via the TCA cycle and electron transport chain to produce ATP. The potential to improve oocyte quality by modulating fatty acid metabolism and β-oxidation with carnitine in culture media formulations or via dietary supplementation has received little attention. This review summarizes studies to date investigating the developmental importance of β-oxidation through the use of metabolic inhibitors and whether regulation by carnitine, in vitro or in vivo, has beneficial effects on oocyte and embryo development. Overall, there is little evidence to date that dietary carnitine can improve oocyte quality or female fertility; however inclusion of l-carnitine to in vitro oocyte maturation and embryo growth media improves embryo outcomes, most likely by supplying the oocyte and embryo with an essential co-factor required to utilize fatty acids.
- Cumulus-oocyte complex
- Fatty acid metabolism