The blastocyst is a structure formed in the early development of mammals. It possesses an inner cell mass (ICM) which subsequently forms the embryo. The outer layer of the blastocyst consists of cells collectively called the trophoblast. This layer surrounds the inner cell mass and a fluid-filled cavity known as the blastocoel. The trophoblast gives rise to the placenta.
In humans, blastocyst formation begins about 5 days after fertilization when a fluid-filled cavity opens up in the morula, a ball of cells. The blastocyst has a diameter of about 0.1–0.2 mm and comprises 200–300 cells following rapid cleavage (cell division). About 1 day after blastocyst formation (5–6 days’ post-fertilization), which is when the blastocyst usually reaches the uterus, the blastocyst begins to embed into the endometrium of the uterine wall where it will undergo further developmental processes, including gastrulation. Embedding of the blastocyst into the endometrium requires that it hatches from the zona pellucida, which prevents adherence to the fallopian tube as the pre-embryo makes its way to the uterus. The blastocyst is completely embedded in the endometrium only 11–12 days after fertilization.
The use of blastocysts in in vitro fertilization (IVF) involves culturing a fertilized egg for five days before implanting it into the uterus. It can be a more viable method of fertility treatment than traditional IVF. The inner cell mass of blastocysts is the source of embryonic stem cells.