Individuals of all ages, including children and teenagers, consume 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) in their food. 4-MI is a caramel-colored waste product that has previously been linked to human carcinogenesis and has shown possible signs of reproductive toxicity. This study aimed to determine whether 4-MI is harmful to oocytes during meiosis and fertilization. Female mice were intragastrically administered 0, 50, or 100 mg/kg body weight of 4-MI daily for 10 days. We found that 4-MI affects the quality of oocytes by affecting their meiotic ability and fertility potential. Specifically, 4-MI rendered the meiotic spindles and chromosomes less stable, which halted oocyte maturation and resulted in aneuploidy. 4-MI also slowed the decrease in the levels of cortical granules and their component ovastacin; consequently, sperms could not be bound and fertilization could not occur. We also found that mitochondrial dysfunction was associated with oocytes deterioration. This led to reactive oxygen species accumulation and cell death. Altogether, our findings reveal that the poor condition of oocytes subjected to 4-MI is primarily attributable to mitochondrial malfunction and redox alterations.
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