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Open access

C Jones, X Meng, and K Coward

Oocyte activation deficiency (OAD) remains the predominant cause of total/low fertilization rate in assisted reproductive technology. Phospholipase C zeta (PLCZ1) is the dominant sperm-specific factor responsible for triggering oocyte activation in mammals. OAD has been linked to numerous PLCZ1 abnormalities in patients experiencing failed in vitro fertilization or intracytoplasmic sperm injection cycles. While significant efforts have enhanced our understanding of the clinical relevance of PLCZ1, and the potential effects of genetic variants upon functionality, our ability to apply PLCZ1 in a diagnostic or therapeutic role remains limited. Artificial oocyte activation is the only option for patients experiencing OAD but lacks a reliable diagnostic approach. Immunofluorescence analysis has revealed that the levels and localization patterns of PLCZ1 within sperm can help us to indirectly diagnose a patient’s ability to induce oocyte activation. Screening of the gene encoding PLCZ1 protein is also critical if we are to fully determine the extent to which genetic factors might play a role in the aberrant expression and/or localization patterns observed in infertile patients. Collectively, these findings highlight the clinical potential of PLCZ1, both as a prognostic indicator of OAD and eventually as a therapeutic agent. In this review, we focus on our understanding of the association between OAD and PLCZ1 by discussing the localization and expression of this key protein in human sperm, the potential genetic causes of OAD, and the diagnostic tools that are currently available to us to identify PLCZ1 deficiency and select patients that would benefit from targeted therapy.

Open access

Nick Warr, Pam Siggers, Joel May, Nicolas Chalon, Madeleine Pope, Sara Wells, Marie-Christine Chaboissier, and Andy Greenfield

Sex determination in mammals is controlled by the dominance of either pro-testis (SRY-SOX9-FGF9) or pro-ovary (RSPO1-WNT4-FOXL2) genetic pathways during early gonad development in XY and XX embryos, respectively. We have previously shown that early, robust expression of mouse Sry is dependent on the nuclear protein GADD45g. In the absence of GADD45g, XY gonadal sex reversal occurs, associated with a major reduction of Sry levels at 11.5 dpc. Here, we probe the relationship between Gadd45g and Sry further, using gain- and loss-of-function genetics. First, we show that transgenic Gadd45g overexpression can elevate Sry expression levels at 11.5 dpc in the B6.YPOS model of sex reversal, resulting in phenotypic rescue. We then show that the zygosity of pro-ovarian Rspo1 is critical for the degree of gonadal sex reversal observed in both B6.YPOS and Gadd45g-deficient XY gonads, in contrast to that of Foxl2. Phenotypic rescue of sex reversal is observed in XY gonads lacking both Gadd45g and Rspo1, but this is not associated with rescue of Sry expression levels at 11.5 dpc. Instead, Sox9 levels are rescued by around 12.5 dpc. We conclude that Gadd45g is absolutely required for timely expression of Sry in XY gonads, independently of RSPO1-mediated WNT signalling, and discuss these data in light of our understanding of antagonistic interactions between the pro-testis and pro-ovary pathways.

Open access

Ludmila Volozonoka, Anna Miskova, Liene Kornejeva, Inga Kempa, Veronika Bargatina, and Linda Gailite

Genetic testing is becoming increasingly required at almost every stage of failed female reproduction/infertility. Nonetheless, clinical evidence for the majority of identified gene–disease relationships is ill-defined, thus leading to difficult gene variant interpretation and poor translation of existing knowledge into clinics. We aimed to identify the genes that have ever been implicated in monogenic female reproductive failure in humans and to classify the identified gene–disease relationship pairs using a standardized clinical validity assessment. A PubMed search following PRISMA guidelines was conducted on 20 September 2021 aiming to identify studies pertaining to genetic causes of phenotypes of female reproductive failure. The clinical validity of identified gene–disease pairs was assessed using standardized criteria, counting whether sufficient genetic and experimental evidence has been accumulated to consider a single gene ‘characterized’ for a single Mendelian disease. In total, 1256 articles were selected for the data extraction; 183 unique gene–disease pairs were classified spanning the following phenotypes: hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, ovarian dysgenesis, premature ovarian failure/insufficiency, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, empty follicle syndrome, oocyte maturation defect, fertilization failure, early embryonic arrest, recurrent hydatidiform mole, adrenal disfunction and Mullerian aplasia. Twenty-four gene–disease pairs showed definitive evidence, 36 – strong, 19 – moderate, 81 – limited and 23 – showed no evidence. Here, we provide comprehensive, systematic and timely information on the genetic causes of female infertility. Our classification of genetic causes of female reproductive failure will facilitate the composition of up-to-date guidelines on genetic testing in female reproduction, the development of diagnostic gene panels and the advancement of reproductive decision-making.

Open access

Karl Swann

One of the simplest and most significant questions that we can ask about fertilization is: how does the sperm activate the egg? It has been known since the 1970s that sperm activate development of eggs by causing a transient increase in the cytosolic free Ca2+ ion concentration. These studies then shifted the question to one of how the sperm could cause the increases in Ca2+ in the egg. The publication of the discovery of phospholipase Czeta (PLCz) in August of 2002 was a critical moment in our understanding of mammalian egg activation (Saunders et al., 2002). This was because it identified PLCz as the protein in sperm extracts that could cause Ca2+ oscillations and mouse egg activation. It was the culmination of many years of searching to find the elusive soluble sperm factor that causes Ca2+ release in mammalian eggs. This factor is also often referred to as the ‘sperm-born oocyte activating factor’ or SOAF. Whilst some aspects of the search for sperm derived egg activating factors are not over, there can be little doubt that PLCz plays the central role in mammalian egg activation during in vitro fertilization and after the widely used technique of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). It represents the first identified and foremost sperm derived egg activating factor.

Open access

Tabinda Sidrat, Abdul Aziz Khan, Myeong-Don Joo, Lianguang Xu, Marwa El-Sheikh, Jong-Hyuk Ko, and Il-Keun Kong

Cryopreservation is a process in which the intact living cells, tissues, or embryos are preserved at subzero temperatures for preservation. The cryopreservation process highly impacts the survival and quality of the in vitro-produced (IVP) embryos. Some studies have highlighted the use of oviduct extracellular vesicles (EVs) to improve the cryotolerance of IVP embryos but the mechanism has not been well studied. The present study unravels the role of in vitro cultured bovine oviduct epithelial cells-derived EVs in improving the re-expansion and hatching potential of thawed blastocysts (BLs). The comparison of cryotolerance between synthetic oviduct fluid (SOF) and SOF + EVs-supplemented day-7 cryopreserved BLs revealed that the embryo’s ability to re-expand critically depends on the intact paracellular sealing which facilitates increased fluid accumulation during cavity expansion after shrinkage. Our results demonstrated that BLs cultured in the SOF + EVs group had remarkably higher re-expansion (67.5 ± 4.2%) and hatching rate (84.8 ± 1.4%) compared to the SOF group (53.4 ± 3.4% and 63.9 ± 0.9%, respectively). Interestingly, EVs-supplemented BLs exhibited greater influence on the expression of core genes involved in trophectoderm (TE) maintenance, formation of tight junction (TJ) assembly, H2O channel proteins (aquaporins), and Na+/K+ ATPase alpha 1. The EVs improved the fluid flux and allowed the transport of H2O into an actively re-expanded cavity in EVs-cultured cryo-survived BLs relative to control BLs. Our findings explored the function of EVs in restoring the TE integrity, improved the cell junctional contacts and H2O movement which helps the blastocoel re-expansion after thawing the cryopreserved BLs.

Open access

Giovana D Catandi, Lance LiPuma, Yusra M Obeidat, Lisa J Maclellan, Corey D Broeckling, Tom Chen, Adam J Chicco, and Elaine M Carnevale

Dietary supplementation is the most feasible method to improve oocyte function and developmental potential in vivo. During three experiments, oocytes were collected from maturing, dominant follicles of older mares to determine whether short-term dietary supplements can alter oocyte metabolic function, lipid composition, and developmental potential. Over approximately 8 weeks, control mares were fed hay (CON) or hay and grain products (COB). Treated mares received supplements designed for equine wellness and gastrointestinal health, flaxseed oil, and a proprietary blend of fatty acid and antioxidant support (reproductive support supplement (RSS)) intended to increase antioxidant activity and lipid oxidation. RSS was modified for individual experiments with additional antioxidants or altered concentrations of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids. Oocytes from mares supplemented with RSS when compared to COB had higher basal oxygen consumption, indicative of higher aerobic metabolism, and proportionately more aerobic to anaerobic metabolism. In the second experiment, oocytes collected from the same mares prior to (CON) and after approximately 8 weeks of RSS supplementation had significantly reduced oocyte lipid abundance. In the final experiment, COB was compared to RSS supplementation, including RSS modified to proportionately reduce n-3 fatty acids and increase n-6 fatty acids. The ability of sperm-injected oocytes to develop into blastocysts was higher for RSS, regardless of fatty acid content, than for COB. We demonstrated that short-term diet supplementation can directly affect oocyte function in older mares, resulting in oocytes with increased metabolic activity, reduced lipid content, and increased developmental potential.

Open access

Michele D Calder, Robert Chen, Anastasia MacDonald, Zoe MacNeily, Zuleika Chin Lai Leung, Samira Adus, Shiyu Cui, Dean H Betts, Basim Abu Rafea, and Andrew J Watson

As obese and overweight patients commonly display hyperlipidemia and are increasingly accessing fertility clinics for their conception needs, our studies are directed at understanding the effects of hyperlipidemia on early pregnancy. We have focused on investigating palmitic acid (PA) and oleic acid (OA) treatment alone and in combination from the mouse two-cell stage embryos as a model for understanding their effects on the mammalian preimplantation embryo. We recently reported that PA exerts a negative effect on mouse two-cell progression to the blastocyst stage, whereas OA co-treatment reverses that negative effect. In the present study, we hypothesized that PA treatment of mouse embryos would disrupt proper localization of cell fate determining and blastocyst formation gene products and that co-treatment with OA would reverse these effects. Our results demonstrate that PA treatment significantly (P  < 0.05) reduces blastocyst development and cell number but did not prevent nuclear localization of YAP in outer cells. PA treatment significantly reduced the number of OCT4+ and CDX2+ nuclei. PA-treated embryos had lower expression of blastocyst formation proteins (E-cadherin, ZO-1 and Na/K-ATPase alpha1 subunit). Importantly, co-treatment of embryos with OA reversed PA-induced effects on blastocyst development and increased inner cell mass (ICM) and trophectoderm (TE) cell numbers and expression of blastocyst formation proteins. Our findings demonstrate that PA treatment does not impede cell fate gene localization but does disrupt proper blastocyst formation gene localization during mouse preimplantation development. OA treatment is protective and reverses PA’s detrimental effects. The results advance our understanding of the impact of FFA exposure on mammalian preimplantation development.

Open access

Nick Warr, Pam Siggers, Joel May, Nicolas Chalon, Madeleine Pope, Sara Wells, Marie-Christine Chaboissier, and Andy Greenfield

Sex determination in mammals is controlled by the dominance of either pro-testis (SRY-SOX9-FGF9) or pro-ovary (RSPO1-WNT4-FOXL2) genetic pathways during early gonad development in XY and XX embryos, respectively. We have previously shown that early, robust expression of mouse Sry is dependent on the nuclear protein GADD45γ. In the absence of GADD45γ, XY gonadal sex reversal occurs, associated with a major reduction of Sry levels at 11.5 dpc. Here, we probe the relationship between Gadd45g and Sry further, using gain- and loss-of-function genetics. First, we show that transgenic Gadd45g over-expression can elevate Sry expression levels at 11.5 dpc in the B6.YPOS model of sex reversal, resulting in phenotypic rescue. We then show that the zygosity of pro-ovarian Rspo1 is critical for the degree of gonadal sex reversal observed in both B6.YPOS and Gadd45g-deficient XY gonads, in contrast to that of Foxl2. Phenotypic rescue of sex reversal is observed in XY gonads lacking both Gadd45g and Rspo1, but this is not associated with rescue of Sry expression levels at 11.5 dpc. Instead, Sox9 levels are rescued by around 12.5 dpc. We conclude that Gadd45g is absolutely required for timely expression of Sry in XY gonads, independently of RSPO1-mediated WNT signalling, and discuss these data in light of our understanding of antagonistic interactions between the pro-testis and pro-ovary pathways.

Open access

Feiyan Zhao, Tong Chen, Xuehan Zhao, Qin Wang, Yonglian Lan, Yu Liang, Ying Li, Shuyu Wang, Yang Yang, and Xiaokui Yang

Recurrent implantation failure (RIF) is a challenge in the field of reproductive medicine, but mechanisms for its occurrence remain still unclear. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) have been found to play a vital role in many different diseases. In recent years, the differentially expressed lncRNAs have been reported in endometrial tissues. Here, we profiled dysregulated lncRNAs and mRNAs in the endometrial tissues of RIF patients and performed correlation analysis. We found that LINC02190 was upregulated in RIF endometrium and was bound to the integrin αD (ITGAD) mRNA promoter. Immunofluorescence assays were used to detect the location of ITGAD in the Ishikawa cell line and patients’ endometrial biopsies. Overexpressed LINC02190 could decrease the expression of ITGAD and the adhesion rate of Ishikawa and JAR cells. Knockdown of the expression of LINC02190 significantly increased the ITGAD level, as well as the adhesion rate of Ishikawa and JAR cells. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the 150–250 bps of LINC02190 were the cis-elements involved in the regulation of ITGAD promoter activities. In conclusion, the results demonstrated that LINC02190 plays an important role in the occurrence of RIF, and the molecular mechanism may be associated with the embryo–endometrial attachment mediated by ITGAD. This study emphasizes the importance of lncRNAs in the occurrence of RIF and provides a potential new biomarker for diagnosis and therapies.

Open access

Richard G Lea, Beatrice Mandon-Pépin, Benoit Loup, Elodie Poumerol, Luc Jouneau, Biola F Egbowon, Adelle Bowden, Corinne Cotinot, Laura Purdie, Zulin Zhang, Paul A Fowler, and Kevin D Sinclair

Exposure of the fetal testis to numerous individual environmental chemicals (ECs) is frequently associated with dysregulated development, leading to impaired adult reproductive competence. However, ‘real-life’ exposure involves complex mixtures of ECs. Here we test the consequences, for the male fetus, of exposing pregnant ewes to EC mixtures derived from pastures treated with biosolids fertiliser (processed human sewage). Fetal testes from continuously exposed ewes were either unaffected at day 80 or exhibited a reduced area of testis immunostained for CYP17A1 protein at day 140. Fetal testes from day 140 pregnant ewes that were exposed transiently for 80-day periods during early (0–80 days), mid (30–110 days), or late (60–140 days) pregnancy had fewer Sertoli cells and reduced testicular area stained for CYP17A1. Male fetuses from ewes exposed during late pregnancy also exhibited reduced fetal body, adrenal and testis mass, anogenital distance, and lowered testosterone; collectively indicative of an anti-androgenic effect. Exposure limited to early gestation induced more testis transcriptome changes than observed for continuously exposed day 140 fetuses. These data suggest that a short period of EC exposure does not allow sufficient time for the testis to adapt. Consequently, testicular transcriptomic changes induced during the first 80 days of gestation may equate with phenotypic effects observed at day 140. In contrast, relatively fewer changes in the testis transcriptome in fetuses exposed continuously to ECs throughout gestation are associated with less severe consequences. Unless corrected by or during puberty, these differential effects would predictably have adverse outcomes for adult testicular function and fertility.