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Open access

Sathish Kumar, Geoffrey H Gordon, David H Abbott, and Jay S Mishra

Adequate maternal vascular adaptations and blood supply to the uterus and placenta are crucial for optimal oxygen and nutrient transport to growing fetuses of eutherian mammals, including humans. Multiple factors contribute to hemodynamics and structuring of placental vasculature essential for term pregnancy with minimal complications. In women, failure to achieve or sustain favorable pregnancy progression is, not surprisingly, associated with high incidence of antenatal complications, including preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. While the pathogenesis of preeclampsia in women remains unknown, a role for androgens is emerging. The relationship between androgens and maternal cardiovascular and placental function deserves particular consideration because testosterone levels in the circulation of preeclamptic women are elevated approximately two- to three-fold and are positively correlated with vascular dysfunction. Preeclampsia is also associated with elevated placental androgen receptor (AR) gene expression. Studies in animal models mimicking the pattern and level of increase of adult female testosterone levels to those found in preeclamptic pregnancies, replicate key features of preeclampsia, including gestational hypertension, endothelial dysfunction, exaggerated vasoconstriction to angiotensin II, reduced spiral artery remodeling, placental hypoxia, decreased nutrient transport and fetal growth restriction. Taken together, these data strongly implicate AR-mediated testosterone action as an important pathway contributing to clinical manifestation of preeclampsia. This review critically addresses this hypothesis, taking into consideration both clinical and preclinical data.

Open access

Jordan E Read, Victoria Cabrera-Sharp, Victoria Offord, Samantha M Mirczuk, Steve P Allen, Robert C Fowkes, and Amanda M de Mestre

Equine chorionic girdle trophoblast cells play important endocrine and immune functions critical in supporting pregnancy. Very little is known about the genes and pathways that regulate chorionic girdle trophoblast development. Our aim was to identify genes and signalling pathways active in vivo in equine chorionic girdle trophoblast within a critical 7-days window. We exploited the late implantation of the equine conceptus to obtain trophoblast tissue. An Agilent equine 44K microarray was performed using RNA extracted from chorionic girdle and chorion (control) from equine pregnancy days 27, 30, 31 and 34 (n = 5), corresponding to the initiation of chorionic girdle trophoblast proliferation, differentiation and migration. Data were analysed using R packages limma and maSigPro, Ingenuity Pathway Analysis and DAVID and verified using qRT-PCR, promoter analysis, western blotting and migration assays. Microarray analysis showed gene expression (absolute log FC >2, FDR-adjusted P < 0.05) was rapidly and specifically induced in the chorionic girdle between days 27 and 34 (compared to day 27, day 30 = 116, day 31 = 317, day 34 = 781 genes). Pathway analysis identified 35 pathways modulated during chorionic girdle development (e.g. FGF, integrin, Rho GTPases, MAPK) including pathways that have limited description in mammalian trophoblast (e.g. IL-9, CD40 and CD28 signalling). Rho A and ERK/MAPK activity was confirmed as was a role for transcription factor ELF5 in regulation of the CGB promoter. The purity and accessibility of chorionic girdle trophoblast proved to be a powerful resource to identify candidate genes and pathways involved in early equine placental development.

Open access

Huijuan Liao, Yan Chen, Yulong Li, Shaolong Xue, Mingfeng Liu, Ziyuan Lin, Yanyan Liu, Hsiao Chang Chan, Xiaohu Zhang, and Huaqin Sun

Mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene affect fertility in both sexes. However, the involvement of CFTR in regulating germ cell development remains largely unknown. Here, we used zebrafish model to investigate the role of CFTR in primordial germ cells (PGCs) development. We generated a cftr frameshift mutant zebrafish line using CRISPR/Cas9 technique and investigated the migration of PGCs during early embryo development. Our results showed that loss of Cftr impairs the migration of PGCs from dome stages onward. The migration of PGCs was also perturbed by treatment of CFTRinh-172, a gating-specific CFTR channel inhibitor. Moreover, defected PGCs migration in cftr mutant embryos can be partially rescued by injection of WT but not other channel-defective mutant cftr mRNAs. Finally, we observed the elevation of cxcr4b, cxcl12a, rgs14a and ca15b, key factors involved in zebrafish PGCs migration, in cftr-mutant zebrafish embryos. Taken together, the present study revealed an important role of CFTR acting as an ion channel in regulating PGCs migration during early embryogenesis. Defect of which may impair germ cell development through elevation of key factors involved in cell motility and response to chemotactic gradient in PGCs.

Open access

Christine Faraci, Sofia Annis, Joyce Jin, Housaiyin Li, Konstantin Khrapko, and Dori C Woods

The mtDNA ‘mutator’ mouse, also called the ‘POLG’ mouse, is a well-characterized model frequently used for studies of progeroid aging. Harboring a mutation in the proofreading domain of the mitochondrial polymerase, polymerase-γ (Polg), POLG mice acquire mtDNA mutations at an accelerated rate. This results in premature mitochondrial dysfunction and a systemic aging phenotype. Previous work has demonstrated that the progeroid phenotype in POLG is attenuated following endurance exercise, the only reported intervention to extend health span and lifespan of these mice. Herein, oocyte quality was evaluated in sedentary and exercised POLG mice. In mice homozygous for the Polg mutation, litter size is dramatically reduced as compared to heterozygous Polg mice. Following ovarian hyper-stimulation, oocytes were retrieved until 9 months of age in exercised and sedentary groups, with no oocytes ovulated thereafter. Although ovulated oocyte numbers were not impacted by exercise, we did find a modest improvement in both the ovarian follicle reserve and in oocyte quality based on meiotic spindle assembly, chromosomal segregation and mitochondrial distribution at 7 months of age in exercised POLG mice as compared to sedentary counterparts. Of note, analysis of mtDNA mutational load revealed no differences between exercised and sedentary groups. Collectively, these data indicate that exercise differentially influences somatic tissues of the POLG mouse as compared to oocytes, highlighting important mechanistic differences between mitochondrial regulatory mechanisms in the soma and the germline.

Open access

Sara R van Boeckel, Donald J Davidson, Jane E Norman, and Sarah J Stock

Inflammation is known to play a key role in preterm and term parturition. Cell-free fetal DNA (cff-DNA) is present in the maternal circulation and increases with gestational age and some pregnancy complications (e.g. preterm birth, preeclampsia). Microbial DNA and adult cell-free DNA can be pro-inflammatory through DNA-sensing mechanisms such as Toll-like receptor 9 and the Stimulator of Interferon Genes (STING) pathway. However, the pro-inflammatory properties of cff-DNA, and the possible effects of this on pregnancy and parturition are unknown. Clinical studies have quantified cff-DNA levels in the maternal circulation in women who deliver preterm and women who deliver at term and show an association between preterm labor and higher cff-DNA levels in the 2nd, 3rd trimester and at onset of preterm birth symptoms. Together with potential pro-inflammatory properties of cff-DNA, this rise suggests a potential mechanistic role in the pathogenesis of spontaneous preterm birth. In this review, we discuss the evidence linking cff-DNA to adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth, obtained from preclinical and clinical studies.

Open access

Jishang Gong, Quanwei Zhang, Qi Wang, Youji Ma, Jiaxiang Du, Yong Zhang, and Xingxu Zhao

PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNA) are small non-coding RNA molecules expressed in animal germ cells that interact with PIWI family proteins to form RNA–protein complexes involved in epigenetic and post-transcriptional gene silencing of retrotransposons and other genetic elements in germ line cells, including reproductive stem cell self-sustainment, differentiation, meiosis and spermatogenesis. In the present study, we performed high-throughput sequencing of piRNAs in testis samples from yaks in different stages of sexual maturity. Deep sequencing of the small RNAs (18–40 nt in length) yielded 4,900,538 unique reads from a total of 53,035,635 reads. We identified yak small RNAs (18–30 nt) and performed functional characterization. Yak small RNAs showed a bimodal length distribution, with two peaks at 22 nt and >28 nt. More than 80% of the 3,106,033 putative piRNAs were mapped to 4637 piRNA-producing genomic clusters using RPKM. 6388 candidate piRNAs were identified from clean reads and the annotations were compared with the yak reference genome repeat region. Integrated network analysis suggested that some differentially expressed genes were involved in spermatogenesis through ECM–receptor interaction and PI3K-Akt signaling pathways. Our data provide novel insights into the molecular expression and regulation similarities and diversities in spermatogenesis and testicular development in yaks at different stages of sexual maturity.

Open access

L P Sepulveda-Rincon, N Islam, P Marsters, B K Campbell, N Beaujean, and W E Maalouf

It has been suggested that first embryo cleavage can be related with the embryonic–abembryonic axis at blastocyst stage in mice. Thus, cells of the 2-cell embryo might be already biased to form the inner cell mass or trophectoderm. This study was conducted to observe the possible effects of embryo biopsy on cell allocation patterns during embryo preimplantation in two different mouse strains and the effects of these patterns on further development. First, one blastomere of the 2-cell embryo was injected with a lipophilic tracer and cell allocation patterns were observed at blastocyst stage. Blastocysts were classified into orthogonal, deviant or random pattern. For the first experiment, embryos were biopsied at 8-cell stage and total cell counts (TCC) were annotated. Furthermore, non-biopsied blastocysts were transferred into foster mothers. Then, pups and their organs were weighed two weeks after birth. Random pattern was significantly recurrent (≈60%), against orthogonal (<22%) and deviant (<22%) patterns among groups. These patterns were not affected by biopsy procedure. However, TCC on deviant embryos were reduced after biopsy. Moreover, no differences were found between patterns for implantation rates, litter size, live offspring and organ weights (lungs, liver, pancreas and spleen). However, deviant pups presented heavier hearts and orthogonal pups presented lighter kidneys among the group. In conclusion, these results suggest that single blastomere removal does not disturb cell allocation patterns during pre-implantation. Nonetheless, the results suggest that embryos following different cell allocation patterns present different coping mechanisms against in vitro manipulations and further development might be altered.

Open access

C Rollo, Y Li, X L Jin, and C O’Neill

Acetylation of histone proteins is a major determinant of chromatin structure and function. Fertilisation triggers a round of chromatin remodelling that prepares the genome for the first round of transcription from the new embryonic genome. In this study we confirm that fertilisation leads to a marked progressive increase in the level of histone 3 lysine 9 acetylation in both the paternally and maternally derived genomes. The culture of zygotes in simple defined media caused a marked increase in the global level of acetylation and this affected the male pronucleus more than the female. The culture created a marked asymmetry in staining between the two pronuclei that was not readily detected in zygotes collected directly from the reproductive tract and was ameliorated to some extent by optimized culture media. The increased acetylation caused by culture resulted in increased transcription of Hspa1b, a marker of embryonic genome activation. Pharmacological analyses showed the hyperacetylation of H3K9 and the increased expression of Hspa1b caused by culture were due to the altered net activity of a range of histone acetylases and deacetylases. The marked hyperacetylation of histone 3 lysine 9 caused by culture of zygotes may serve as an early biomarker for the effects of culture on the normal function of the embryo. The results also provide further evidence for an effect of the stresses associated with assisted reproductive technologies on the normal patterns of epigenetic reprogramming in the early embryo.

Open access

Cai Chen, Han Wu, Dan Shen, Saisai Wang, Li Zhang, Xiaoyan Wang, Bo Gao, Tianwen Wu, Bichun Li, Kui Li, and Chengyi Song

The similarities and differences of small RNAs in seminal plasma, epididymal sperm and ejaculated sperm remain largely undefined. We conducted a systematic comparative analysis of small RNA profiles in pig ejaculated sperm, epididymal sperm and seminal plasma and found that the diversity distribution of small RNA species was generally similar, whereas the abundance of small RNAs is dramatically different across the three libraries; miRNAs and small RNAs derived from rRNA, tRNA, small nuclear RNA, 7SK RNA, NRON RNA and cis-regulatory RNA were enriched in the three libraries, but piRNA was absent. A large population of small RNAs from ejaculated sperm are ejaculated sperm specific, and only 8–30% of small RNAs overlapped with those of epididymal sperm or seminal plasma and a small proportion (5–18%) of small RNAs were shared in the three libraries, suggesting that, in addition to the testes, sperm RNAs may also originate from seminal plasma, epididymis as well as other resources. Most miRNAs were co-distributed but differentially expressed across the three libraries, with epididymal sperm exhibiting the highest abundance, followed by ejaculated sperm and seminal plasma. The prediction of target genes of the top 10 highly expressed miRNAs across the three libraries revealed that these miRNAs may be involved in spermatogenesis, zygote development and the interaction between the environment and animals. Our study provides the first description of the similarities and differences of small RNA profiles in ejaculated sperm, epididymal sperm and seminal plasma and indicates that sperm RNA may have origins other than the testes.

Open access

Gerly Sillaste, Lauris Kaplinski, Riho Meier, Ülle Jaakma, Elo Eriste, and Andres Salumets

DNA compaction with protamines in sperm is essential for successful fertilization. However, a portion of sperm chromatin remains less tightly packed with histones, which genomic location and function remain unclear. We extracted and sequenced histone-associated DNA from sperm of nine ejaculates from three bulls. We found that the fraction of retained histones varied between samples, but the variance was similar between samples from the same and different individuals. The most conserved regions showed similar abundance across all samples, whereas in other regions, their presence correlated with the size of histone fraction. This may refer to gradual histone–protamine transition, where easily accessible genomic regions, followed by the less accessible regions are first substituted by protamines. Our results confirm those from previous studies that histones remain in repetitive genome elements, such as centromeres, and added new findings of histones in rRNA and SRP RNA gene clusters and indicated histone enrichment in some spermatogenesis-associated genes, but not in genes of early embryonic development. Our functional analysis revealed significant overrepresentation of cGMP-dependent protein kinase G (cGMP-PKG) pathway genes among histone-enriched genes. This pathway is known for its importance in pre-fertilization sperm events. In summary, a novel hypothesis for gradual histone-to-protamine transition in sperm maturation was proposed. We believe that histones may contribute structural information into early embryo by epigenetically modifying centromeric chromatin and other types of repetitive DNA. We also suggest that sperm histones are retained in genes needed for sperm development, maturation and fertilization, as these genes are transcriptionally active shortly prior to histone-to-protamine transition.