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Maria Victoria Bazzano, Gisela Belén Sarrible, Martín Berón de Astrada, and Evelin Elia


Obesity is a chronic disease that impairs female reproduction. When gestation is achieved, maternal obesity can cause offspring’ s health complications. We intended to evaluate the effects of maternal pre-conceptional obesity on uterine contractile activity, embryo implantation and offspring development. Using cafeteria diet-induced obesity as animal model, we found that maternal obesity delays embryo transport from the oviduct to the uterus and alters the intrauterine embryo positioning. Adrenergic receptor (AR) signaling is involved in embryo positioning, so, all AR isoforms were screened in the pre-implantation uteri. We found that the β2AR is the dominant isoform in the rat uteri and that obesity causes its upregulation. Despite β2AR activation is known to induce uterine relaxation, higher spontaneous contractile activity was detected in obese dams. Uteri from obese dams showed a higher sensitivity to salbutamol (a selective agonist of β2AR) than controls, consistent with the higher 2AR levels detected in those animals.

Despite, in obese dams, some embryos were still in the oviduct at the predicted time of initial embryo attachment, embryo implantation is successfully carried out since the total number fetuses on gd 18.5 were similar between control and obese dams. These findings show that obesity is modifying the implantation window.

Moreover, we found that maternal obesity resulted in macrosomia in the offspring, which is an important predictor of fetal programming of postnatal health. Hence, our results show that maternal obesity prior to pregnancy suffices not only to disturb the implantation process, but also to affect the offspring development.

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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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Tse-En Wang, Shiori Minabe, Fuko Matsuda, Sheng-Hsiang Li, Hiroko Tsukamura, Kei-Ichiro Maeda, Lee Smith, Laura O’Hara, Bart M Gadella, and Pei-Shiue Tsai

The epididymis is an androgen-responsive organ, whose structure and functions are modulated by the coordination between androgen and epididymal cues. Highly regulated molecular interaction within the epididymis is required to support viable sperm development necessary for subsequent fertilization. In the present study, we extended our earlier findings on a promising epididymal protein, quiescin sulfhydryl oxidase 2 (QSOX2), and demonstrated a positive correlation between testosterone and QSOX2 protein synthesis through the use of loss- and restore-of-function animal models. Moreover, based on transcriptomic analyses and 2D culture system, we determined that an additional polarized effect of glutamate is indispensable for the regulatory action of testosterone on QSOX2 synthesis. In conclusion, we propose noncanonical testosterone signaling supports epididymal QSOX2 protein synthesis, providing a novel perspective on the regulation of sperm maturation within the epididymis.

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Chunfang Xu, Weijie Zhao, Xixi Huang, Zhuxuan Jiang, Lu Liu, Liyuan Cui, Xinyi Li, Dajin Li, and Meirong Du

Decidualization is the functional transformation process of endometrium in response to ovarian steroids dedicated to support embryo development. Defective decidualization is closely associated with various pregnancy complications such as recurrent miscarriage (RM). Dual specificity MAPK phosphatases (MKPs) are a family of phosphatases specifically regulating mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling with dual specificity for threonine and tyrosine. Here, using RNA-seq,we found that dual specificity phosphatase 1 (DUSP1) expression was prominently elevated among the MKP family members in db-cAMP treated primary human endometrial stromal cells (ESCs). We verified that its induction by db-cAMP in ESCs was in a dose- and time-dependent manner and that primary human decidual stromal cells (DSCs) present higher expression of DUSP1 than ESCs. A protein kinase A (PKA) inhibitor H-89 abolished its induction in ESCs, but not ESI-09, an EPAC1/2 inhibitor. Knock-down of TORC2/3 but not CREB by siRNA in ESCs diminished its induction by db-cAMP. Furthermore, knock-down of DUSP1, as well as TORC2/3 by siRNA caused abnormal activation of JNK during db-cAMP induction in ESCs, accompanied by decreased IGFBP1 expression, an ESC decidualization indicator, which could be fully rescued by a JNK inhibitor SP600125. In addition, Western blot showed that DUSP1 expression was reduced in the DSCs of patients with RM, along with JNK overactivation and decreased IGFBP1 expression. In conclusion, our results demonstrated that TORC2/3-mediated DUSP1 upregulation in response to the cAMP/PKA signaling safeguards IGFBP1 expression via restraining JNK activity, indicating its involvement in ESC decidualization, and that aberrant expression of DUSP1 in DSCs might engage in the pathogenesis of RM.

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Bernhard Klinger and Angelika Schnieke

For more than a century the scientific consensus stated that a nucleus from a terminally differentiated cell would not be able to control the development of offspring. This theory was refuted by the birth of Dolly, the first animal generated by nuclear transfer using an adult somatic cell as nuclear donor. Following this paradigm shift, a wide variety of animals has been cloned using somatic cell nuclear transfer. Coupled with modern genome engineering technology somatic cell nuclear transfer has become the method of choice for the generation of genetically modified farm animals. This has opened new opportunities to study the function of genes and has led to the establishment of animal models for a variety of human conditions and diseases or to improve the health of livestock animals.

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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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Andy Greenfield

The birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996 elicited a tsunami of commentaries, both in the popular media and academic journals, including responses to the prospect of human reproductive cloning. Much of the anxiety expressed over this imagined consequence of Dolly’s genesis revealed fundamental concerns about our losing our commitments to certain ethical goods, such as human dignity, or even ‘what it means to be human’. Over the last 25 years, the focus of much of the ethical debate over human biotechnology has slowly shifted towards other genetic technologies that aim to influence inheritance, such as mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT) and heritable genome editing. Genome editing, in particular, is a technology with multiple fields of application, actual and potential, in research and innovation. In this review, I suggest that many of the fundamental concerns about the possibility of human reproductive cloning that were precipitated by Dolly persist today in the arguments of those who oppose MRT and any use of heritable human genome editing (HHGE). Whilst I do not accept that an understanding of human nature and dignity alone can demonstrate the ethical unacceptability of such assisted reproductive technologies, there are themes of justice, which extend into our relationships with animals, that demand continued wide-ranging examination and public deliberation. Dolly has cast a long shadow over such discussions, but I suggest that the general existential angst over human uses of biotechnology that she came to symbolise is neither compulsory, nor a reliable guide for how to think about biotechnologies today.