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D Randall Armant, Graham W Aberdeen, Brian A Kilburn, Gerald J Pepe and Eugene D Albrecht

Placental extravillous trophoblast remodeling of the uterine spiral arteries is important for promoting blood flow to the placenta and fetal development. Heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF), an EGF family member, stimulates differentiation and invasive capacity of extravillous trophoblasts in vitro. Trophoblast expression and maternal levels of HB-EGF are reduced at term in women with preeclampsia, but it is uncertain whether HB-EGF is downregulated earlier when it may contribute to placental insufficiency. A nonhuman primate model has been established in which trophoblast remodeling of the uterine spiral arteries is suppressed by shifting the rise in estrogen from the second to the first trimester of baboon pregnancy. In the present study, we used this model to determine if placental HB-EGF is altered by prematurely elevating estrogen early in baboon gestation. Uterine spiral artery remodeling and placental expression of HB-EGF and other EGF family members were assessed on day 60 of gestation in baboons treated with estradiol (E2) daily between days 25 and 59 of gestation (term = 184 days). The percentages of spiral artery remodeling were 90, 84 and 70% lower (P < 0.01), respectively, for vessels of 26–50, 51–100 and >100 µm diameter in E2-treated compared with untreated baboons. HB-EGF protein quantified by immunocytochemical staining/image analysis was decreased three-fold (P < 0.01) in the placenta of E2-treated versus untreated baboons, while amphiregulin (AREG) and EGF expression was unaltered. Therefore, we propose that HB-EGF modulates the estrogen-sensitive remodeling of the uterine spiral arteries by the extravillous trophoblast in early baboon pregnancy.

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Daniela Weiser, Andrea Mietens, Beatrix Stadler, Davor Ježek, Gerhard Schuler and Ralf Middendorff

Contractions of the adult epididymal duct are well known in the context of sperm transport. Some reports also describe contractions of the epididymal duct during development, but data about their character, regulation and function are sparse. In the foetal human epididymis we found luminal cells and could identify them as exfoliated epithelial cells originating from the epididymis and not from testis by using antibodies against neutral endopeptidase as an epithelial epididymal duct marker. Exfoliated cells were also found in the epididymal duct after birth. Time-lapse imaging revealed directional transport of luminal cells in the neonatal rat epididymis interrupted by pendular movement. Spontaneous contractions were discovered in the neonatal epididymis and an association between these contractions and the transport of the luminal cells could be observed. Both, transport and spontaneous contractions, were affected significantly by substances known to contract (noradrenaline) or relax (the phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor sildenafil) smooth muscle cells. Immunohistochemistry showed staining for the proliferation marker proliferating-cell-nuclear-antigen (PCNA) in cells of the ductal lumen of the neonatal rat epididymis indicating the extrusion of cells also during proliferation. Our data showed spontaneous contractions of the immature epididymal duct associated with the transport of exfoliated luminal cells before the first occurrence of sperm cells. Results suggest an important role including both (i) a mechanical place holder function of exfoliated luminal cells (ii) together with a novel idea of organized waste disposal of these cells during development.

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Tristan Frum and Amy Ralston

The mouse preimplantation embryo is a paradigm for discovery of the molecular principles governing formation of specific cell types during development. In this Point of View Article, we show that conditions commonly used for ex vivo culture of preimplantation development are themselves antagonistic to a pathway that is critical for blastocyst lineage commitment.

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Rongli Wang and Li Zou

A successful pregnancy crucially depends on well-regulated extravillous trophoblast migration and invasion. Maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3) is a long noncoding RNA that plays an important role in regulating trophoblast cells cell function. As previously reported, the expression of MEG3 was reduced in preeclampsia, and downregulation of MEG3 could suppress trophoblast cells migration and promote its apoptosis. However, the downstream regulatory mechanism of MEG3 remains unknown. As reported, MEG3 could inhibit cell proliferation in endometrial carcinoma by regulating Notch signaling. Our previous studies have demonstrated that Notch1 is downregulated in preeclampsia and that inhibiting the expression of Notch1 could promote trophoblast cell apoptosis. Therefore, this study was designed to investigate the role of MEG3 and its the relationship with Notch1 in trophoblasts. In this study, the mRNA expression levels of both MEG3 and Notch1 were decreased in preeclampsia placenta (n = 15) compared to the normal samples (n = 15). Exogenous upregulation and downregulation of MEG3 in HTR8/SVneo cells were performed to investigate the role of MEG3 in cell biological behavior and its effects on Notch1 expression. The results showed that MEG3 enhancement promoted trophoblast cell migration and invasion and inhibited cell apoptosis. Downregulation of MEG3 elicited the opposite results. Associated factors, such as matrix metalloproteinases 2 (MMP2), BAX, and Bcl-2, were examined at the mRNA and protein levels. Our study demonstrated that MEG3 could regulate Notch1 expression to modulate trophoblast cell migration, invasion, and apoptosis, which may represent the molecular mechanism of poor placentation during preeclampsia.

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Maria Jose Ruiz Magaña, Jose Maria Puerta, Rocio Martínez-Aguilar, Tatiana Llorca, Osmany Blanco, Raquel Muñoz-Fernández, Enrique G Olivares and Carmen Ruiz-Ruiz

Endometrial stromal cells (EnSCs) and decidual stromal cells (DSCs) originate from fibroblastic precursors located around the vessels of the human nonpregnant endometrium and the pregnant endometrium (decidua), respectively. Under the effect of ovarian or pregnancy hormones, these precursors differentiate (decidualize), changing their morphology and secreting factors that appear to be essential for the normal development of pregnancy. However, the different physiological context – that is, non-pregnancy vs pregnancy – of those precursors (preEnSCs, preDSCs) might affect their phenotype and functions. In the present study, we established preEnSC and preDSC lines and compared the antigen phenotype and responses to decidualization factors in these two types of stromal cell line. Analyses with flow cytometry showed that preEnSCs and preDSCs exhibited a similar antigen phenotype compatible with that of bone marrow mesenchymal stem/stromal cells. The response to decidualization in cultures with progesterone and cAMP was evaluated by analyzing changes in cell morphology by microscopy, prolactin and IL-15 secretion by enzyme immunoassay and the induction of apoptosis by flow cytometry. In all four analyses, preDSCs showed a significantly higher response than preEnSCs. The expression of progesterone receptor (PR), protein kinase A (PKA) and FOXO1 was studied with Western blotting. Both types of cells showed similar levels of PR and PKA, but the increase in PKA RI subunit expression in response to decidualization was again significantly greater in preDSCs. We conclude that preEnSCs and preDSCs are equivalent cells but differ in their ability to decidualize. Functional differences between them probably derive from factors in their different milieus.

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Sarah C Moody, Shoichi Wakitani, Julia C Young, Patrick S Western and Kate L Loveland

Disrupted fetal germline development underpins testicular germ cell neoplasia, which is increasing worldwide. The complex signaling milieu during normal testis development includes TGFβ superfamily ligands; this study tests the hypothesis that, activin A, a TGFβ superfamily member, can influence gonocyte development. The human seminoma-derived cell line, TCam-2, a model of fetal gonocytes, was cultured with activin A (1.25–25 ng/mL) for 48 h, or with 5 ng/mL activin A for short- (6, 24, and 48 h) and long-term (13 days) exposures, and downstream targets measured by qRT-PCR. Transcripts that exhibited significant dose-dependent responses to activin A included the early germ cell markers KIT, NODAL, and CRIPTO (NODALl co-receptor and activin inhibitor) which all increased and the differentiation marker DNMT3L which decreased. After 48 h, KIT, NODAL, and CRIPTO levels were significantly higher, while the differentiation marker NANOS2 was significantly lower. Interestingly, activin A exposure also significantly reduced both transcript and protein levels of the PIWI/piRNA pathway component DNMT3L. Because TCam-2 cells produce the activin inhibitor CRIPTO, CRIPTO was reduced using siRNA prior to activin A exposure. This selectively increased KIT in response to activin A. Other ligands present in the fetal testis (BMP4, FGF9, TGFβ1, and TGFβ2) induced distinct effects on germline marker expression. This study showed that activin A can directly modulate germline markers in this human gonocyte-like cell, promoting a less-differentiated phenotype. Additional findings indicate evidence of signaling crosstalk between activin A and NODAL, leading to target-specific effects on gonocyte differentiation.

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Hong-Jie Yuan, Zhi-Bin Li, Xin-Yue Zhao, Guang-Yi Sun, Guo-Liang Wang, Ying-Qi Zhao, Min Zhang and Jing-He Tan

Mechanisms by which female stress and particularly glucocorticoids impair oocyte competence are largely unclear. Although one study demonstrated that glucocorticoids triggered apoptosis in ovarian cells and oocytes by activating the FasL/Fas system, other studies suggested that they might induce apoptosis through activating other signaling pathways as well. In this study, both in vivo and in vitro experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that glucocorticoids might trigger apoptosis in oocytes and ovarian cells through activating the TNF-α system. The results showed that cortisol injection of female mice (1.) impaired oocyte developmental potential and mitochondrial membrane potential with increased oxidative stress; (2.) induced apoptosis in mural granulosa cells (MGCs) with increased oxidative stress in the ovary; and (3.) activated the TNF-α system in both ovaries and oocytes. Culture with corticosterone induced apoptosis and activated the TNF-α system in MGCs. Knockdown or knockout of TNF-α significantly ameliorated the pro-apoptotic effects of glucocorticoids on oocytes and MGCs. However, culture with corticosterone downregulated TNF-α expression significantly in oviductal epithelial cells. Together, the results demonstrated that glucocorticoids impaired oocyte competence and triggered apoptosis in ovarian cells through activating the TNF-α system and that the effect of glucocorticoids on TNF-α expression might vary between cell types.

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Lanlan Fang, Sijia Wang, Yiran Li, Yiping Yu, Yuxi Li, Yang Yan, Jung-Chien Cheng and Ying-Pu Sun

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. Growth differentiation factor-8 (GDF-8) is expressed in the ovary and can be detected in human follicular fluid which provides an important microenvironment for maintaining physiological functions of the ovarian follicle. To date, the relationship between GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid and the risk of PCOS is completely unknown. In the present study, we show that during the process of the controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH), serum GDF-8 levels are higher on the day of gonadotropin administration and 14 days after embryo transfer in in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients with PCOS than they are in IVF patients without PCOS. Importantly, GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid at oocyte retrieval are also higher in PCOS patients than in non-PCOS patients. Treatment of primary human granulosa-lutein (hGL) cells with GDF-8 downregulates StAR protein expression and the inhibition is more pronounced in hGL cells from PCOS patients than it is in cells from non-PCOS patients. Importantly, high GDF-8 levels and low progesterone (P4) levels were associated with poor pregnancy outcomes in PCOS patients. Our results provide the first evidence that aberrant expression of GDF-8 in the follicular fluid of PCOS patients results in abnormal P4 expression, which leads to poor pregnancy outcomes.

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Rebekka Einenkel, Jens Ehrhardt, Kristin Hartmann, Diana Krüger, Damián Oscar Muzzio and Marek Zygmunt

Strategically located in mucosal barriers, innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are relevant in local containment and tolerance of commensal microflora. ILCs have been recently described at the fetomaternal interface, where the development of a semi-allogeneic fetus can only succeed in a well-controlled immune environment. We postulate that ILCs adapt their antigen presentation capacity to protect pregnancy from excessive immune responses. Human ILCs were studied in deciduae of term pregnancies, peripheral blood and in in vitro generated ILCs. Fresh isolated lymphocytes or cells treated with pregnancy-related factors were investigated. The fetal antigen rejection-based CBA/J × DBA/2J mouse model (poor outcome pregnant mice; POPM) was used to characterize ILC antigen presentation potential in normal and immunologically disturbed pregnancies. ILC antigen presentation potential was characterized by flow cytometry and qPCR. We discovered that the distribution of ILC subsets changed during both human and murine pregnancy. Moreover, the pregnancy was accompanied by reduced MHCII expression in splenic ILCs during normal pregnancy (CBA/J × BALB/c; good outcome pregnant mice; GOPM) but increased in splenic and intestinal ILCs of CBA/J × DBA/2J mice. In vitro, splenic ILCs from pregnant mice increased MHCII expression after stimulation with IL-1β and IL-23. In contrast, uterine ILCs displayed lower MHCII expression, which remained unchanged after stimulation. Finally, pregnancy-related factors and hormones present in the uterine environment reduced antigen presentation potential of human ILCs in vitro. Together, these data indicate that, during pregnancy, peripheral and especially uterine ILCs adapt their antigen presenting potential to maintain a level of tolerance and support pregnancy.

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Lia Mara Gomes Paim and Greg FitzHarris

Summary

Preimplantation embryos frequently contain binucleated cells, but reports differ as to whether binucleation affects development and whether such embryos should be used clinically. In this Point Of View article, we propose a possible explanation for this disparity: binucleation can arise by distinct routes, one that produces healthy blastomeres and one that directly threatens embryo viability.