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Momal Sharif, Karl Kerns, Peter Sutovsky, Nicolai Bovin, and David J Miller

In mammals, the oviduct retains sperm, forming a reservoir from which they are released in synchrony with ovulation. However, the mechanisms underlying sperm release are unclear. Herein, we first examined in greater detail the release of sperm from the oviduct reservoir by sex steroids, and secondly, if the ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS) mediates this release in vitro. Sperm were allowed to bind to oviductal cells or immobilized oviduct glycans, either bi-SiaLN or a suLeX, and channeled with steroids in the presence or absence of proteasome inhibitors. Previously, we have demonstrated progesterone-induced sperm release from oviduct cells and immobilized glycans in a steroid-specific manner. Herein, we found that the release of sperm from an immobilized oviduct glycan, a six-sialylated branched structure, and from immobilized fibronectin was inhibited by the CatSper blocker NNC 055-0396, akin to the previously reported ability of NNC 055-0396 to inhibit sperm release from another oviduct glycan, sulfated Lewis-X trisaccharide. Thus, CatSper may be required for release of sperm from a variety of adhesion systems. One possible mechanism for sperm release is that glycan receptors on sperm are degraded by proteasomes or shed from the sperm surface by proteasomal degradation. Accordingly, the inhibition of proteasomal degradation blocked sperm release from oviduct cell aggregates both immobilized oviduct glycans as well as fibronectin. In summary, progesterone-induced sperm release requires both active CatSper channels and proteasomal degradation, suggesting that hyperactivation and proteolysis are vital parts of the mechanism by which sperm move from the oviduct reservoir to the site of fertilization.

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Yanhui Zhai, Meng Zhang, Xinglan An, Sheng Zhang, Xiangjie Kong, Qi Li, Hao Yu, Xiangpeng Dai, and Ziyi Li

Pre-implantation embryos undergo genome-wide DNA demethylation, however certain regions, like imprinted loci remain methylated. Further, the mechanisms ensuring demethylation resistance by TRIM28 in epigenetic reprogramming remain poorly understood. Here, TRIM28 was knocked down in oocytes, and its effects on porcine somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) embryo development was examined. Our results showed that SCNT embryos constructed from TRIM28 knockdown oocytes had significantly lower cleavage (53.9 ± 3.4% vs 64.8 ± 2.7%) and blastocyst rates (12.1 ± 4.3% vs 19.8 ± 1.9%) than control-SCNT embryos. The DNA methylation levels at the promoter regions of the imprinting gene IGF2 and H19 were significantly decreased in the 4-cell stage, and the transcript abundance of other imprinting gene was substantially increased. We also identified an aberrant two-fold decrease in the expression of CXXC1and H3K4me3 methyltransferase (ASH2L and MLL2), and the signal intensity of H3K4me3 had a transient drop in SCNT 2-cell embryos. Our results indicated that maternal TRIM28 knockdown disrupted the genome imprints and caused epigenetic variability in H3K4me3 levels, which blocked the transcription activity of zygote genes and affected the normal developmental progression of porcine SCNT embryos.

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Martina Langhammer, Erika Wytrwat, Marten Michaelis, Jennifer Schoen, Armin Tuchscherer, Norbert Reinsch, and Joachim M Weitzel

We recently described two outbred mouse lines that were selected for large litter size at first delivery. However, lifetime fecundity appears to be economically more important for the husbandry of many polytocous species for which mouse lines might serve as bona fide animal models (e.g., for pigs). In the present study, we compared the lifetime fecundities of two highly fertile mouse lines (FL1 and FL2: >20 offspring/litter at first delivery) with those of an unselected control line (ctrl) and two lines that were selected for high body weight (DU6) and high protein mass (DU6P) without selection pressure on fertility. We tested the hypothesis that selection for large litter size at first parturition would also increase lifetime fecundity in mice, and we observed very large differences between lines. Whereas FL1 and ctrl delivered up to 9 and 10 litters, none of the DU6 and DU6P females gave birth to more than 5 litters. In line with this observation, FL1 delivered the most pups per lifetime (85.7/female). FL2 females produced the largest average litter sizes (20.4 pups/litter) in the first four litters; however, they displayed a reduced number of litters. With the exception of ctrl, litter sizes declined from litter to litter. Repeated delivery of litters with high offspring numbers did not affect the general health of FL females. The presented data demonstrate that two biodiverse, highly fertile mouse lines selected for large litter size at first delivery show different lifetime reproductive fitness levels.

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Xingji You, Zixi Chen, Qianqian Sun, Ruojing Yao, Hang Gu, and Xin Ni

Urocortins (UCNs), belonging to corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) family, exert their function via CRH receptor type 1(CRHR1) and 2 (CRHR2). Our previous studies have demonstrated that CRH acts on CRHR1 to potentiate prostaglandin (PG) output induced by inflammatory stimuli in myometrial cells. In the present study, we sought to investigate the effects of UCNs on prostaglandin (PG) output via CRHR2 in cultured human uterine smooth muscle cells (HUSMCs) from human term myometrium. We found that UCN and UCN3 treatment promoted PGE2 and PGF2α secretion in a dose-dependent manner. In contrast, UCN2 dose-dependently inhibited PGE2 and PGF2α secretion. Their effects could be reversed by CRHR2 antagonist and CRHR2 siRNA. Mechanically, we showed that UCN and UCN3 suppressed cAMP production and led to Gi activation, while UCN2 promoted cAMP production and activated Gs signaling. Further, UCN and UCN3 could activate NF-κB and MAPK signaling pathways. These effects were dependent on Gi signaling. In contrast, UCN did not activate MAPK and NF-κB signaling. UCN and UCN3 stimulation of PG secretion was dependent on Gi/adenylyl cyclase (AC)/cAMP, NF-κB and MAPK signaling pathways, while UCN2 suppression of PG output was through Gs/AC/cAMP signaling pathways. Our data suggest that UCN, UCN2 and UCN3 can finely regulate the secretion of PGs via CRHR2, which facilities the functional status of uterus during pregnancy.

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Jia-Wei Shi, Hui-Li Yang, Zhen-Zhen Lai, Hui-Hui Shen, Xue-Yun Qin, Xue-Min Qiu, Yan Wang, Jiang-Nan Wu, and Ming-Qing Li

The survival and development of a semi-allogeneic fetus during pregnancy require the involvement of decidual stromal cells (DSCs), a series of cytokines and immune cells. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) is a low molecular weight peptide hormone with similar metabolic activity and structural characteristics of proinsulin, which exerts its biological effects by binding with its receptor. Emerging evidence has shown that IGF1 is expressed at the maternal–fetal interface, but its special role in establishment and maintenance of pregnancy is largely unknown. Here, we found that the expression of IGF1 in the decidua was significantly higher than that in the endometrium. Additionally, decidua from women with normal pregnancy had high levels of IGF1 compared with that from women with unexplained recurrent spontaneous miscarriage. Estrogen and progesterone led to the increase of IGF1 in DSCs through upregulating the expression of WISP2. Recombinant IGF1 or DSCs-derived IGF1 increased the survival, reduced the apoptosis of DSCs, and downregulated the cytotoxicity of decidual NK cells (dNK) through interaction with IGF1R. These data suggest that estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of DSCs and impair the cytotoxicity of dNK possibly by the WISP2/IGF1 signaling pathway.

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Yining Li, Yeu-Farn Lin, Xiang Zhou, Hugh J Clarke, and Daniel J Bernard

Ovarian follicle development is regulated by locally produced TGFβ superfamily members. The TGFβ type III receptor (TGFBR3, or betaglycan), which regulates the actions of diverse TGFβ ligands, including inhibins, is expressed in different ovarian cell types. However, its functional roles in the ovary have not been investigated in vivo. Here, we ablated Tgfbr3 in murine oocytes using the Cre-loxP system. Oocyte-specific Tgfbr3 knockout (cKO) females were fertile, producing litters of similar size and frequency as controls. Their ovarian weights and histology were also normal. Though we confirmed efficient recombination of the floxed alleles, we did not detect Tgfbr3 mRNA in purified oocytes from superovulated cKO or control mice. These results challenge earlier observations of betaglycan protein expression in this cell type. Regardless, Tgfbr3 in the murine oocyte is clearly dispensable for female fertility.

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Xiaolei Yao, M A EI-Samahy, Shenhua Xiao, Zhibo Wang, Fanxing Meng, Xiaodan Li, Yongjin Bao, Yanli Zhang, Ziyu Wang, Yixuan Fan, and Feng Wang

Being a novel target of luteinizing hormone (LH), the effect of CREB-binding protein/P300-interacting trans-activator with ED-rich tail member 4 (CITED4) gene on the proliferation, apoptosis, and steroidogenesis of ovarian granulosa cells (GCs) in Hu sheep was investigated. The presence of CITED4, CREB-binding protein (CBP), CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein alpha (C/EBPα) and -beta (C/EBPβ) proteins was demonstrated in GCs and luteal cells. CITED4 protein in GCs was induced by LH, and CITED4 overexpression moderately increased GC responses to LH. In contrast, CITED4 knockdown in GCs decreased prostaglandin (PGE2)-induced LH target gene levels. Moreover, PGE2-stimulated CITED4 mRNA expression was blocked by ERK1/2 inhibition (U0126), suggesting that CITED4 is a downstream target of the ERK1/2 pathway in sheep GCs. In contrast to CITED4 knockdown, CITED4 overexpression promoted GC proliferation, inhibited apoptosis, upregulated cell cycle-related genes, and downregulated apoptosis-related genes. Additionally, CITED4 overexpression induced cell cycle transition from S to G2/M phase. No effect was observed with CITED4 knockdown. CITED4 overexpression increased progesterone (P4) production levels and STAR mRNA expression, whereas CITED4 knockdown decreased P4 production and STAR and 3β-HSD mRNA expression levels. Thus, our results suggest that CITED4 is involved in regulating the expression of LH-induced genes and the ERK1/2 pathway and the proliferation, apoptosis, and steroidogenesis in Hu sheep GCs by modulating the expression of related genes. These findings will help understand the role of CITED4 in follicular development and ovulation of pre-ovulatory follicles.

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Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki and Bakhtyar Tartibian

The existing evidence suggests that the human reproductive system may be potentially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. However, little is known about the virus–host interaction of COVID-19 in sperm cells. We are the first to address the connection between changes in multiple seminal biomarkers and reproductive function in male patients recovering from COVID-19. In a prospective longitudinal cohort study, seminal ACE2 activity, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, apoptotic variables, and semen quality parameters were evaluated at 10-day intervals for a maximum follow-up time of 60 days among male patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 (n = 84) and healthy controls (CON; n = 105). At the baseline and the subsequent follow-ups, the COVID-19 group revealed significantly higher levels of seminal plasma ACE2 enzymatic activity, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, TGF-β, TNF-α, IFN-α, IFN-γ, ROS, caspase-8, caspase-9, and caspase-3 activity as well as lower levels of SOD activity than those in the CON group (P  < 0.05). These perturbations tended to persist over time and were correlated with significant impairments in semen volume, progressive motility, sperm morphology, sperm concentration, and the number of spermatozoa. We provide the direct experimental evidence that the male reproductive system could be targeted and damaged by the COVID-19 infection. These findings go beyond our current understanding of the disease, suggesting that the reproductive function of the patients recovering from the disease should be precisely followed and evaluated to detect and avoid more serious reproductive problems in the future, as they may develop a transient state of male subfertility like those with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia.

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Sinan Ozkavukcu, Nilay Kuscu, Dileyra Adiguzel, Guldane Cengiz-Seval, and Ciler Celik-Ozenci

Nilotinib is a second-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) that is widely used to treat patients with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). TKIs provided a significant improvement in terms of survival rates and disease-free period in CML; however, there is insufficient knowledge about their side effects, including reproductive toxicity. Since nearly half of the CML patients are in their reproductive age, and newly announced indications cover the treatment of the paediatric age groups, concerns arise about the effects of these drugs on the reproductive system, as there are no controlled preclinical studies. We investigated acute and long-term gonadotoxic and teratogenic effects of nilotinib, utilising a mouse model that simulates various clinical scenarios. We observed significant testicular damage in mice receiving nilotinib according to Johnsen’s score analysis. Alterations were observed in female mice’s number of follicles, as the primordial follicle numbers significantly decreased. Proliferating cell number in both genders’ gonads decreased and apoptosis rate increased significantly. The nilotinib-received female and male mice’s pregnancy rates were low compared to controls. A significant decrease in the thickness of the spongiotrophoblast and decidual layers of the placenta was detected in pregnancies consisting of male and/or female mice treated with nilotinib. The results of this study establish a critical point of view for clinical translation and indicate the importance of consulting patients for directing them to fertility preservation and contraception options for both genders before nilotinib treatment.

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Ana Filipa Ferreira, Maria Soares, Sandra Almeida Reis, João Ramalho-Santos, Ana Paula Sousa, and Teresa Almeida-Santos

Mitochondrial supplementation was proposed as a complementary treatment to assisted reproductive technologies to improve oocyte competence and support post-fertilization development. This strategy is based on the fact that poor-quality/aged oocytes contain lower and dysfunctional mitochondria. However, the efficacy and safety of mitochondrial supplementation are still controversial. Therefore, this review summarizes the clinical/biological outcomes of mitochondrial supplementation, aiming to improve oocyte competence or explore the safety of this technique, and was based on an online search using PubMed and Web of Science, until September 2019. The studies included reported outcomes related to the efficacy and safety of mitochondrial supplementation either in human or animal models (bovine, porcine and mouse). Extracted data were organized according to study objective, the mitochondrial source and the main outcomes: fertilization/pregnancy rates, embryo development and adverse outcomes. Clinical pregnancy was not improved in the only randomized controlled trial published, although an increase was demonstrated in other non-randomized studies. Fertilization rate and embryo development were not different from control groups in the majority of studies, although performed in different contexts and using diverse sources of mitochondria. The safety of mitochondria transfer is still a concern, however, the euploid rate and the absence of reported congenital malformation from the clinical studies are reassuring. In summary, mitochondrial supplementation does not seem to cause harm although the benefit of improving oocyte competence is still unclear due to the diversity of methodological approaches and low-quality of the data available. Analyzed data support the need to investigate further, in both pre-clinical and clinical contexts.