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Yufei Wang, Haoya Chang, Qifu He, Yaxing Xue, Kang Zhang, Jian Kang, Ying Wang, Zhiming Xu, Yong Zhang, and Fusheng Quan

Oocyte vitrification has significantly improved the survival rate and become the mainstream method for cryopreserving oocytes. Previous studies have demonstrated that the ultrastructure, mitochondrial function, DNA methylation, and histone modification exhibit an irreversible effect after oocyte vitrification. However, little is known about the effects of oocyte vitrification on glucose transport and metabolism. This study aims to determine whether mouse oocyte vitrification causes abnormal glucose metabolism and identify a strategy to correct abnormal glucose metabolism. Furthermore, this study further investigates the effects of oocyte vitrification on glucose uptake, and glucose metabolism, and energy levels. The results indicated that vitrification significantly reduced the glucose transport activity, NADPH, glutathione, and ATP levels, and increased reactive oxygen species levels in oocytes (P  < 0.01). Vitrification also reduced the expression of glucose transporter isoform 1 (GLUT1) (P  < 0.01). Adding a GLUT1 inhibitor reduced the glucose uptake capacity of oocytes. Furthermore, the inclusion of vitamin C into thawing and culture solutions restored abnormal glucose transportation and metabolism and improved the survival, two-cell embryo, and blastocyst rates of the vitrified groups via parthenogenesis (P  < 0.05). Overall, this method may improve the quality and efficiency of oocyte vitrification.

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Michala Rosa Birch, Steen Dissing, Niels E Skakkebæk, and Anders Rehfeld

Ca2+ signalling controls human sperm functions necessary for successful fertilization. Multiple endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found to activate the CatSper Ca2+ channel and thereby interfering with Ca2+ signalling in human sperm. Finasteride is prescribed to men in the fertile age to treat hair loss and its use has been associated with impaired male fertility. Due to the structural relatedness of finasteride to the endogenous CatSper ligand progesterone, this study aimed to investigate whether finasteride affects human sperm in a progestogen-like manner. The effect of finasteride on Ca2+ signalling via CatSper in human sperm was investigated in cell suspensions by single-cell imaging. Additionally, effects on sperm penetration into viscous medium and acrosome reaction were assessed. Finasteride alone caused a minor transient rise in the intracellular, free Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) at physiologically relevant concentrations. Ca2+ signals induced by PGE1 were inhibited by finasteride displaying mixed type of inhibition consistent with multiple binding sites. Finasteride did not interfere with progesterone-induced Ca2+ signalling and no effect on acrosome reaction or sperm viability was found. Finasteride significantly decreased PGE1-induced penetration into viscous medium but in concentrations above what is measured in blood and seminal fluids during regular finasteride administration. In conclusion, the use of finasteride may affect Ca2+ signalling in human sperm through an interaction with the PGE1-binding site, but to which extend it alters the chances of a successful fertilization needs further investigation. It remains to be investigated whether finasteride administration may give rise to side effects by interfering with prostaglandin signalling elsewhere in the human body.

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Luiz Cordeiro, Hsiu-Lien Herbie Lin, Anaïs Vitorino Carvalho, Isabelle Grasseau, Rustem Uzbekov, and Elisabeth Blesbois

Male subfertility causes are very varied and sometimes related to post-gonadic maturation disruption, involving seminal plasma constituents. Among them, extracellular vesicles are involved in key exchanges with sperm in mammals. However, in birds, the existence of seminal extracellular vesicles is still debated. The aim of the present work was first to clarify the putative presence of extracellular vesicles in the seminal plasma of chickens, secondly to characterize their size and protein markers in animals showing different fertility, and finally to make preliminary evaluations of their interactions with sperm. We successfully isolated extracellular vesicles from seminal plasma of males showing the highest differences in semen quality and fertility by using ultracentrifugation protocol (pool of 3 ejaculates/rooster, n =3/condition). Size characterization performed by electron microscopy revealed a high proportion of small extracellular vesicles (probably exosomes) in chicken seminal plasma. Smaller extracellular vesicles appeared more abundant in fertile than in subfertile roosters, with a mean diameter of 65.12 and 77.18 nm, respectively. Different protein markers of extracellular vesicles were found by western blotting (n = 6/condition). Among them, HSP90A was significantly more abundant in fertile than in subfertile males. In co-incubation experiments (n = 3/condition), extracellular vesicles enriched seminal fractions of fertile males showed a higher capacity to be incorporated into fertile than into subfertile sperm. Sperm viability and motility were impacted by the presence of extracellular vesicles from fertile males. In conclusion, we successfully demonstrated the presence of extracellular vesicles in chicken seminal plasma, with differential size, protein markers and putative incorporation capacity according to male fertility status.

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Anthony D Horlock, Thomas J R Ormsby, Martin J D Clift, José E P Santos, John J Bromfield, and I Martin Sheldon

Bovine granulosa cells are often exposed to energy stress, due to the energy demands of lactation, and exposed to lipopolysaccharide from postpartum bacterial infections. Granulosa cells mount innate immune responses to lipopolysaccharide, including the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinases and production of pro-inflammatory interleukins. Cellular energy depends on glycolysis, and energy stress activates intracellular AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), which in turn inhibits mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin). Here, we tested the hypothesis that manipulating glycolysis, AMPK or mTOR to mimic energy stress in bovine granulosa cells limits the inflammatory responses to lipopolysaccharide. We inhibited glycolysis, activated AMPK or inhibited mTOR in granulosa cells isolated from 4–8mm and from > 8.5 mm diameter ovarian follicles, and then challenged the cells with lipopolysaccharide and measured the production of interleukins IL-1α, IL-1β, and IL-8. We found that inhibiting glycolysis with 2-deoxy-d-glucose reduced lipopolysaccharide-stimulated IL-1α > 80%, IL-1β > 90%, and IL-8 > 65% in granulosa cells from 4–8 mm and from > 8.5 mm diameter ovarian follicles. Activating AMPK with AICAR also reduced lipopolysaccharide-stimulated IL-1α > 60%, IL-1β > 75%, and IL-8 > 20%, and shortened the duration of lipopolysaccharide-stimulated phosphorylation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase ERK1/2 and JNK. However, only the mTOR inhibitor Torin 1, and not rapamycin, reduced lipopolysaccharide-stimulated IL-1α and IL-1β. In conclusion, manipulating granulosa cell energy metabolism with a glycolysis inhibitor, an AMPK activator, or an mTOR inhibitor, limited inflammatory responses to lipopolysaccharide. Our findings imply that energy stress compromises ovarian follicle immune defences.

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Marc Kanbar, Maxime Vermeulen, and Christine Wyns

Organoids are 3D structures characterized by cellular spatial organizations and functions close to the native tissue they mimic. Attempts to create organoids originating from several tissues have now been reported, including the testis. Testicular organoids have the potential to improve our knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate testicular morphogenesis, physiology, and pathophysiology. They could especially prove as useful tools to understand the complex mechanisms involved in the regulation of the germ cell niche in infertility cases as they offer the possibility to control and modify the nature of cell types before self-assembly and thereby opening the perspective for developing innovative methods to restore fertility. To date, there are only few studies targeted at testicular organoids’ formation and even less describing the generation of organoids with both testis-specific structure and function. While researchers described interesting applications with regards to testicular tissue morphogenesis and drug toxicity, further research is needed before testicular organoids would eventually lead to the generation of fertilizing spermatozoa. This review will present the conventional systems used to induce in vitro maturation of testicular cells, describe the different approaches that have been used for the development of testicular organoids and discuss the potential applications they could have in the field of male reproductive biology.

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Takafumi Ushida, Tomomi Kotani, Yoshinori Moriyama, Charles C T Hindmarch, Tiziana Cotechini, Kenji Imai, Tomoko Nakano-Kobayashi, Hiroaki Kajiyama, and Charles H Graham

Women with a history of preeclampsia have an increased risk of subsequent cardiovascular and metabolic disease. While aberrant inflammation during pregnancy is associated with the development of preeclampsia, whether maternal inflammation increases the risk of disease later in life is unclear. Using a rat model we determined whether aberrant inflammation in pregnancy alters the levels of plasma proteins associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk in the postpartum period. Pregnant rats were administered lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or saline on gestational days 13.5–16.5 to induce inflammation. Non-pregnant controls consisted of age-matched female rats subjected to similar administration of LPS or saline. Examination of the proteomic profile of plasma collected 16 weeks after delivery or from non-pregnant controls using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry revealed 100 differentially expressed proteins. Moreover, we identified 188 proteins in pregnant rats, of which 49 were differentially expressed in saline- vs LPS-treated dams. Of the 49 proteins regulated by LPS, 28 were pregnancy specific. PANTHER classification software, DAVID database and Ingenuity Pathways analysis revealed that the differentially expressed proteins in pregnant saline vs LPS-treated rats are associated with alterations in lipid and glucose metabolism and atherosclerosis, all of which may contribute to cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk. Results from proteomic and pathway analyses were validated by immunoassay of three serum proteins selected a priori and by assessment of serum metabolites. This discovery study demonstrates that aberrant inflammation during pregnancy results in long-lasting postpartum physiological alterations known to be associated with metabolic and cardiovascular disease.

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Luiz Cordeiro, Cindy Riou, Rustem Uzbekov, and Nadine Gérard

In birds, oviductal cells play a crucial role in the storage of sperm via cell-to-cell communication including extracellular vesicles (EV). We developed a culture of oviductal organoids enriched in sperm storage tubules (SSTorg) to demonstrate the release of EV. SSTorg were cultured for 24 h and added to live (LV), frozen (FZ) and lysed (LY) avian sperm, seminal plasma (SP), avian sperm conditioned medium (CM), or bovine sperm (BV). Western blot demonstrated that SSTorg contained EV protein markers, valosin-containing protein (VCP), heat shock proteins (HSP90AA1, HSPA8), and annexins (ANXA2, A4, A5). Co-culture with LV significantly decreased the intracellular level of all these proteins except HSPA8. Immunohistochemistry confirmed this result for VCP and ANXA4. LY, CM, SP and BV had no effect on the intracellular level of these proteins, whereas FZ induced a decrease in ANXA2, A4 and A5. In culture media, VCP and HSP90AA1 signals were detected in the presence of LV, FZ, BV, LY, CM and SP, but no ANXA4 signal was observed in the presence of FZ and SP. ANXA2 and A5 were only detected in the presence of LV. The most abundant EV were less than 150 nm in diameter. ANXA4 and A5 were more abundant in EV isolated from the SSTorg culture medium. This study provides a useful culture system for studying interactions between SST cells and sperm. We demonstrated the release of EV by SSTorg in vitro, and its regulation by sperm. This may be of crucial importance for sperm during storage in hens.

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Mariana R Batista, Patrícia Diniz, Daniel Murta, Ana Torres, Luís Lopes-da-Costa, and Elisabete Silva

This study investigated the role of Notch and Wnt cell signaling interplay in the mouse early embryo, and its effects on fetal development. Developmental kinetics was evaluated in embryos in vitro cultured from the 8-16-cell to the hatched blastocyst stage in the presence of signaling inhibitors of Notch (DAPT) and/or Wnt (DKK1). An embryo subset was evaluated for differential cell count and gene transcription of Notch (receptors Notch1-4, ligands Dll1, Dll4, Jagged1-2, effectors Hes1-2) and Wnt (Wnt3a, Lrp6, Gsk3β, C-myc, Tcf4, β-catenin) components, E-cadherin and pluripotency and differentiation markers (Sox2, Oct4, Klf4, Cdx2), whereas a second subset was evaluated for implantation ability and development to term following transfer into recipients. Notch and Wnt blockades had significant opposing effects on developmental kinetics – Notch blockade retarded while Wnt blockade fastened development. This evidences that Notch and Wnt regulate the pace of embryo kinetics by respectively speeding and braking development. Blockades significantly changed the transcription profile of Sox2, Oct4, Klf4 and Cdx2, and Notch and double blockades significantly changed embryonic cell numbers and cell ratio. The double blockade induced more severe phenotypes than those expected from the cumulative effects of single blockades. Implantation ability was unaffected, but Notch and double blockades significantly decreased fetal development to term. Compared to control embryos, Notch blockade and Wnt blockade embryos originated, respectively, significantly lighter and heavier fetuses. In conclusion, Notch and Wnt signaling interplay in the regulation of the pace of early embryo kinetics, and their actions at this stage have significant carry-over effects on later fetal development to term.

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Robert G Cowan and Susan M Quirk

Cell-fate mapping was used to identify cells that respond to the hedgehog (HH) signaling pathway and that are incorporated into the theca cell layer during ovarian follicle development. Expression of Gli1 is increased by HH signaling and can be used as a marker of cells responsive to HH in reporter mice. In transgenic Gli1ERcre/tdT mice, injection of tamoxifen (TAM) induces cre-mediated recombination and expression of td tomato (tdT) which leads to permanent fluorescent marking of cells expressing Gli1 and their progeny. The identity of tdT-positive cells was determined by co-staining ovaries for endothelial cells (CD31), pericytes (CSPG4), vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC; smooth muscle actin) and steroidogenic cells (cytochrome P450 17A1). Gli1ERcre/tdT mice were injected with TAM on the day of birth. Cells positive for tdT in 2-day-old mice were identified as pericytes, located primarily in the medulla of the ovary in close proximity to endothelial cells. In both prepubertal mice and adult mice treated with equine chorionic gonadotropin to induce the formation of preovulatory follicles, tdT-positive cells were located within the theca cell layer and were identified as pericytes, VSMC and steroidogenic theca cells. Granulosa cells are known to express two HH ligands, Indian HH and desert HH (DHH). In DHHcre/tdT reporter mice, endothelial cells were marked as tdT-positive indicating that endothelial cells, in addition to granulosa cells, express Dhh in the ovary. These findings suggest that HH signaling may stimulate the development of the vasculature along with steroidogenic capacity of the theca layer during follicle development.

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Shinnosuke Suzuki, John R. McCarrey, and Brian P Hermann

Initiation of spermatogonial differentiation in the mouse testis begins with the response to retinoic acid (RA) characterized by activation of KIT and STRA8 expression. In the adult, spermatogonial differentiation is spatiotemporally coordinated by a pulse of RA every 8.6 days that is localized to stages VII-VIII of the seminiferous epithelial cycle. Dogmatically, progenitor spermatogonia that express retinoic acid receptor gamma (RARG) at these stages will differentiate in response to RA, but this has yet to be tested functionally. Previous single-cell RNA-seq data identified phenotypically and functionally distinct subsets of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) and progenitor spermatogonia, where late progenitor spermatogonia were defined by expression of RARG and Dppa3. Here, we found late progenitor spermatogonia (RARGhigh KIT-) were further divisible into two subpopulations based on Dppa3 reporter expression (Dppa3-ECFP or Dppa3-EGFP) and were observed across all stages of the seminiferous epithelial cycle. However, nearly all Dppa3+ spermatogonia were differentiating (KIT+) late in the seminiferous epithelial cycle (stages X-XII), while Dppa3- late progenitors remained abundant, suggesting that Dppa3+ and Dppa3- late progenitors differentially responded to RA. Following acute RA treatment (2-4hr), significantly more Dppa3+ late progenitors induced KIT, including at the midpoint of the cycle (stages VI-IX), than Dppa3- late progenitors. Subsequently, single-cell analyses indicated a subset of Dppa3+ late progenitors expressed higher levels of Rxra, which we confirmed by RXRA whole-mount immunostaining. Together, these results indicate RARG alone is insufficient to initiate a spermatogonial response to RA in the adult mouse testis and suggest differential RXRA expression may discriminate responding cells.