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Caitlyn Nguyen-Ngo, Carlos Salomon, Andrew Lai, Jane C Willcox, and Martha Lappas

Spontaneous preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity globally. Activation of the maternal immune system leads to a downstream cascade of proinflammatory events that culminate in the activation of spontaneous uterine contractions and the rupture of the foetal membranes. Anti-inflammatory agents may be a novel therapeutic approach to prevent inflammation-induced myometrial contractions and premature rupture of foetal membranes. The polyphenol gallic acid has been previously shown to exert potent anti-inflammatory effects. Thus, this study aimed to determine the effect of gallic acid on proinflammatory and pro-labour mediators in cytokine-stimulated gestational tissues in vitro. In primary human cells isolated from myometrium and foetal membranes (decidua, and amnion mesenchymal and epithelial cells), gallic acid treatment suppressed inflammation-induced expression of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines and extracellular matrix-degrading and matrix-remodelling enzymes. Gallic acid also significantly inhibited inflammation-induced myometrial activation as evidenced by decreased expression of contraction-associated proteins, the uterotonic PGF and collagen cell contractility. Using a global proteomic approach, gallic acid may differentially regulate proteins associated with collagen synthesis, cell contractility and protein synthesis in primary myometrial and decidual cells. In summary, gallic acid inhibited inflammation-induced mediators involved in active labour in primary cells isolated from myometrium and foetal membranes. These in vitro studies suggest that the polyphenol gallic acid may be able to suppress the production of proinflammatory and pro-labour mediators involved in myometrial contractions and rupture of foetal membranes. Future preclinical studies may elucidate the efficacy of gallic acid in preventing inflammation-driven preterm birth.

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Seok Hee Lee, Hyun Ju Oh, Min Jung Kim, and Byeong Chun Lee

Oviduct cells produce a favorable environment for the development of gametes by generating multiple growth factors. Particularly, in canine species, immature oocytes undergo serial maturation processes in the oviduct, while the other mammals already possess matured oocytes in ovulatory follicles. However, little is known about the potential effect exhibited by the components released from canine oviduct cells (OCs) for modulating the biological function of oocytes. Recently, exosomes are regarded as promising extracellular vesicles because they represent considerable data for molecular cargo. Therefore, we first investigated the effect of canine oviductal exosomes (OC-Exo) on oocyte development via EGFR/MAPK pathway. Our results showed that OC-Exo labeled with PHK67 are successfully incorporated with cumulus cells and oocytes during IVM. Also, OC-Exo markedly increased the proportion of cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs) exhibiting cumulus expansion as well as cumulus cell proliferation and maturation rate of oocytes (P < 0.05). Furthermore, gene expression patterns related with EGFR/MAPK pathway including EGFR, PKA, TACE/ADAM17, MAPK1/3, MAPK14, PTGS2, TNFAIP6, GDF9, and BMP15 were positively modified in COCs cultured with OC-Exo (P < 0.05). In addition, OC-Exo significantly up-regulated the protein expression levels of p-EGFR, p-MAPK1/3, GDF9 and BMP15 in COCs (P < 0.05). Consequently, the current study provides a model for understanding the roles of OC-Exo as bioactive molecules for canine oocyte maturation via EGFR/MAPK pathway, which would open a new avenue for the application of exosomes to improve assisted reproductive technology in mammals, including humans.

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Malena Schanton, Julieta Maymó, María Fernanda Camisay, Antonio Pérez-Pérez, Roberto Casale, Víctor Sánchez-Margalet, Alejandra Erlejman, and Cecilia Varone

Pregnancy success requires a proper fetal maternal interaction at the establishment of implantation. Leptin has been described as a multitasking cytokine in pregnancy, particularly in the placenta, where it acts as an autocrine hormone. The expression of leptin in normal trophoblastic cells is regulated by different endogenous signals. We have previously reported that 17β-estradiol upregulates placental leptin expression through genomic and non-genomic mechanisms. To improve the knowledge of estrogen receptor mechanisms in regulating leptin gene expression, we examined transcription nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) effect on estradiol leptin induction in human BeWo cell line and human term placental explants. We demonstrated that estradiol induction effect on leptin expression is blocked by the inhibition of NFκB signaling. We also found that the overexpression of p65 subunit, the active form of NFκB, induces leptin expression. Moreover, downregulation of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), through a specific siRNA, abolished NFκB effect on leptin expression. We also demonstrated that ERα enhanced NFκB signaling pathway activation in trophoblastic cells. Estradiol treatment significantly increased p65 expression and phosphorylation of the inhibitory protein κB alpha (IκBα). A reporter plasmid containing NFκB elements was also induced in response to estradiol stimulation. Localization experiments revealed that estradiol treatment induced nuclear localization of overexpressed p65. Moreover, the overexpression of ERα produced a complete displacement of p65 protein to the nucleus. Finally, immunoprecipitation experiments showed the presence of a complex containing ERα and NFκB. All these evidences suggest a cooperative behavior between ERα and NFκB transcription factors to induce leptin transcription.

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Priscila Ramos-Ibeas, Ismael Lamas-Toranzo, Álvaro Martínez-Moro, Celia de Frutos, Alejandra C Quiroga, Esther Zurita, and Pablo Bermejo-Álvarez

Failures during conceptus elongation are a major cause of pregnancy losses in ungulates, exerting a relevant economic impact on farming. The developmental events occurring during this period are poorly understood, mainly because this process cannot be recapitulated in vitro. Previous studies have established an in vitro post-hatching development (PHD) system that supports bovine embryo development beyond the blastocyst stage, based on agarose gel tunnels and serum- and glucose-enriched medium. Unfortunately, under this system embryonic disc formation is not achieved and embryos show notorious signs of apoptosis and necrosis. The objective of this study has been to develop an in vitro system able to support embryonic disc formation. We first compared post-hatching development inside agarose tunnels or free-floating over an agarose-coated dish in serum- and glucose-enriched medium (PHD medium). Culture inside agarose tunnels shaped embryo morphology by physical constriction, but it restricted embryo growth and did not provide any significant advantage in terms of development of hypoblast and epiblast lineages. In contrast to PHD medium, a chemically defined and enriched medium (N2B27) supported complete hypoblast migration and epiblast survival in vitro, even in the absence of agarose coating. Cells expressing the pluripotency marker SOX2 were observed in ~56% of the embryos and ~25% developed embryonic disc-like structures formed by SOX2+ cells. In summary, here we provide a culture system that supports trophectoderm proliferation, hypoblast migration and epiblast survival after the blastocyst stage.

Open access

Qi Li, Na Li, Hengwei Liu, Yu Du, Haitang He, Ling Zhang, and Yi Liu

Endometriosis (EMs) is an estrogen (E2)-dependent inflammatory disorder. Although EMs is considered a benign disease, it presents with malignant characteristics, such as migration and invasion. An increasing number of studies have shown that aberrantly expressed circular RNAs (circRNAs) play an essential role in disease development and progression. However, the mechanisms by which circRNAs exert their pathological effects in EMs remain unclear. Hsa_circ_0001649, a novel cancer-associated circRNA, has been previously reported to be downregulated in several cancer types and related to cell migration and invasion. In the present study, real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) was carried out to measure hsa_circ_0001649 levels in human tissues, human primary endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) and a human endometrial stromal cell line (ThESCs). Matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9) levels in ESCs and ThESCs were assessed by qRT-PCR and Western blotting, and the migration and invasion capacities of ThESCs were evaluated by transwell assay. As a result, hsa_circ_0001649 expression was significantly decreased in ectopic and eutopic endometrial samples compared with that in normal endometrial samples. E2 decreased hsa_circ_0001649 expression but increased MMP9 expression in ESCs and ThESCs. Furthermore, ThESCs were more invasive under E2 stimulation. However, these effects disappeared when ICI or hsa_circ_0001649 transfection was used. Collectively, our findings reveal that decreased hsa_circ_0001649 expression plays a role in E2-increased MMP9 expression through E2 receptors (ERs), which have critical functions in EMs.

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Adriana Di-Battista, Mariana Moysés-Oliveira, and Maria Isabel Melaragno

Premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) is the cessation of menstruation before the age of 40 and can result from different etiologies, including genetic, autoimmune, and iatrogenic. Of the genetic causes, single-gene mutations and cytogenetic alterations, such as X-chromosome aneuploidies and chromosome rearrangements, can be associated with POI. In this review, we summarize the genetic factors linked to POI and list the main candidate genes. We discuss the association of these genes with the ovarian development, the functional consequences of different mutational mechanisms and biological processes that are frequently disrupted during POI pathogenesis. Additionally, we focus on the high prevalence of X-autosome translocations involving the critical regions in Xq, known as POI1 and POI2, and discuss in depth the main hypotheses proposed to explain this association. Although the incorrect pairing of chromosomes during meiosis could lead to oocyte apoptosis, the reason for the prevalence of X-chromosome breakpoints at specific regions remains unclear. In most cases, studies on genes disrupted by balanced structural rearrangements cannot explain the ovarian failure. Thus, the position effect has emerged as a putative explanation for genetic mechanisms as translocations possibly result in changes in overall chromatin topology due to chromosome repositioning. Given the tremendous impact of POI on women’s quality of life, we highlight the value of investigations in to the interplay between ovarian function and gene regulation to deepen our understanding of the molecular mechanisms related to this disease, with the ultimate goal of improving patients’ care and assistance.

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Mariana de Castro Silva, Lauren S Richardson, Talar Kechichian, Rheanna Urrabaz-Garza, Márcia Guimarães da Silva, and Ramkumar Menon

A non-reversible state of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) at term accumulates proinflammatory mesenchymal cells and predisposes fetal membrane to weakening prior to delivery at term. We investigated the induction of EMT in amnion epithelial cells (AEC) in response to inflammation and infection associated with spontaneous preterm birth (SPTB). For this, membranes from SPTB were screened for EMT markers. Primary AEC in culture were treated with TNF-α (10 and 50 ng/mL) and LPS (50 and 100 ng/mL) for 72 h. Cell shape index (SI) was determined based on morphological shift (microscopy followed by ImageJ software analysis). Immunocytochemistry and Western blot assessed changes in epithelial markers (cytokeratin-18 and E-cadherin) and mesenchymal markers (vimentin and N-cadherin). Involvement of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) in EMT induction and EMT associated inflammation was tested using specific markers (Western blot) and by measuring MMP9 (ELISA), respectively. We report that PTB is associated with fetal membrane EMT. TNF-α produced dose- and time-dependent induction of EMT; within 24 h by 50 ng/mL and after 72 h by 10 ng/mL. AEC showed mesenchymal morphology, lower E-cadherin, higher vimentin and N-cadherin and higher MMP9 compared to control. TNF-α-induced EMT was not associated with canonical TGF-β pathway. LPS, regardless of dose or time, did not induce EMT in AEC. We conclude that PTB with intact membranes is associated with EMT. Our data suggest that inflammation, but not infection, is associated with non-canonical activation of EMT and inflammation that can predispose membrane to undergo weakening.

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Heewon Seo, James W Frank, Robert C Burghardt, Fuller W Bazer, and Greg A Johnson

Integrins and OPN are potential mediators of blastocyst attachment to the endometrium to initiate implantation. The goals were to examine the temporal/spatial pattern of expression of integrins at the endometrial–placental interface of sheep encompassing Days 9 through 80 of gestation and determine if OPN co-localizes with integrins. Results show the following: (1) αv, α4, β1, β3 and β5 integrins at the apical surface of endometrial luminal epithelium (LE) from Days 11 through 16 of pregnancy that indicate a role for these integrins during implantation; (2) large, intermittent aggregates of αv, α4, α5, β1 and β5 integrins at the endometrial–placental interface from Days 20 through 55, suggesting adaptation to a localized tissue remodeling stage of placentation; and (3) integrin adhesion complexes (IACs) containing αv, α4, α5, β1 and β5 integrins precisely distribute at the apical surfaces of apposed endometrial LE and chorion along expanses of the interplacentomal endometrial–placental interface between Days 60 and 80 of gestation, suggesting engagement of these integrins with the ECM to stabilize adhesion between endometrial LE and chorion in response to the increasing mechanical stress on this interface by the increasing size of the fetus and volumes of fetal fluids. An advancement is the clear co-localization of OPN and integrins at the endometrial–placental interface throughout gestation in sheep. The comprehensive nature of these results provide evidence that integrins potentially interact with OPN to play key roles in the mechanisms required for implantation and placentation throughout pregnancy in sheep and have implications concerning implantation and placentation in other species.

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Hannah Roberts, Stephane L Bourque, and Stephen J Renaud

Iron is an essential mineral that participates in oxygen transport, DNA synthesis and repair, and as a cofactor for various cellular processes. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Due to blood volume expansion and demands from the fetal–placental unit, pregnant women are one of the populations most at risk of developing iron deficiency. Iron deficiency during pregnancy poses major health concerns for offspring, including intrauterine growth restriction and long-term health complications. Although the underlying mechanisms remain unclear, maternal iron deficiency may indirectly impair fetal growth through changes in the structure and function of the placenta. Since the placenta forms the interface between mother and baby, understanding how the placenta changes in iron deficiency may yield new diagnostic indices of fetal stress in affected pregnancies, thereby leading to earlier interventions and improved fetal outcomes. In this review, we compile current data on the changes in placental development and function that occur under conditions of maternal iron deficiency, and discuss challenges and perspectives on managing the high incidence of iron deficiency in pregnant women.

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Sadaf N Kalam, Louise Cole, Laura Lindsay, and Christopher R Murphy

Luminal uterine epithelial cells (UEC) have a surge in vesicular activity during early uterine receptivity. It has been predicted these vesicles exit the UEC via exocytosis resulting in secretion and membrane trafficking. The present study investigated the changes in SNARE proteins VAMP2 (v-SNARE) and syntaxin 3 (t-SNARE) localisation and abundance in UECs during early pregnancy in the rat. We found VAMP2 and syntaxin 3 are significantly higher on day 5.5 compared to day 1 of pregnancy. On day 5.5, VAMP2 is perinuclear and syntaxin 3 is concentrated in the apical cytoplasm compared to a cytoplasmic localisation on day 1. This change in localisation and abundance show VAMP2 and syntaxin 3 are involved in vesicular movement and membrane trafficking in UECs during early pregnancy. This study also investigated the influence of cytoskeletal disruption of microtubules and actin filaments on VAMP2 and syntaxin 3 in UECs grown in vitro, since microtubules and actin influence vesicle trafficking. As expected, this study found disruption to microtubules with colchicine and actin with cytochalasin D impacted VAMP2 and syntaxin 3 localisation. These results suggest VAMP2 and syntaxin 3 are involved in the timely trafficking of vesicular membranes to the apical surface in UECs during early pregnancy, as are of microtubules and actin.