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Delia Alba Soto and Pablo Juan Ross

The germ cell lineage ensures the creation of new individuals and perpetuates the genetic information across generations. Primordial germ cells are pioneers of gametes and exist transiently during development until they differentiate into oogonia in females, or spermatogonia in males. Little is known about the molecular characteristics of primordial germ cells in cattle. By performing single-cell RNA-sequencing, quantitative real-time PCR, and immunofluorescence analyses of fetal gonads between 40 and 90 days of fetal age, we evaluated the molecular signatures of bovine germ cells at the initial stages of gonadal development. Our results indicate that at 50 days of fetal age, bovine primordial germ cells were in the early stages of development, expressing genes of early primordial germ cells, including transcriptional regulators of human germline specification (e.g. SOX17, TFAP2C, and PRDM1). Bovine and human primordial germ cells also share expression of KIT, EPCAM, ITGA6, and PDPN genes coding for membrane-bound proteins, and an asynchronous pattern of differentiation. Additionally, the expression of members of Notch, Nodal/Activin, and BMP signaling cascades in the bovine fetal ovary, suggests that these pathways are involved in the interaction between germ cells and their niche. Results of this study provide insights into the mechanisms involved in the development of bovine primordial germ cells and put in evidence similarities between the bovine and human germline.

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Jon Romero-Aguirregomezcorta, Ricardo Laguna-Barraza, Raúl Fernández-González, Miriama Štiavnická, Fabian Ward, Jennifer Cloherty, Denis McAuliffe, Peter B Larsen, Andreas M Grabrucker, Alfonso Gutiérrez-Adán, David Newport, and Seán Fair

The objective of this work was to elucidate whether a sperm selection method that combines rheotaxis and microfluidics can improve the selection of spermatozoa over density gradient and swim-up. For this purpose human sperm selected by rheotaxis were compared against density gradient, swim-up and a control group of non-selected spermatozoa in split frozen-thawed (FT) and fresh (F) semen samples. Sperm quality was assessed in terms of motility, morphology, DNA fragmentation index (DFI), viability, acrosome integrity and membrane fluidity. Using a mouse model, we compared fertilisation and embryo development rates after performing ICSI with spermatozoa, sorted using rheotaxis or swim-up. Selection by rheotaxis yielded a sperm population with reduced DFI than the control (P < 0.05), improved normal morphology (P < 0.001) and higher total motility (TM; P < 0.001) than the other techniques studied in F and FT samples. Swim-up increased TM compared to density gradient and control in FT or F samples (P < 0.001), and yielded lower DFI than the control with F samples (P < 0.05). In FT samples, selection by rheotaxis yielded sperm with higher viability than control, density gradient and swim-up (P < 0.01) while acrosomal integrity and membrane fluidity were maintained. When mouse spermatozoa were selected for ICSI using rheotaxis compared to swim-up, there was an increase in fertilisation (P < 0.01), implantation (P < 0.001) and foetal development rates (P < 0.05). These results suggest that, in the absence of non-destructive DNA testing, the positive rheotaxis can be used to select a population of low DNA fragmentation spermatozoa with high motility, morphology and viability, leading to improved embryo developmental rates.

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Ling Jin, Liang Ren, Jing Lu, Xue Wen, Siying Zhuang, Ting Geng, and Yuanzhen Zhang

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder accompanied by chronic low-grade inflammation; its etiology is still undefined. This study investigated the expression of CXCL12, CXCR4, and CXCR7 in PCOS rats and their role in regulation of apoptosis. To accomplish this, we established an in vivo PCOS rat model and studied KGN cells (human ovarian granulosa cell line) in vitro. In PCOS rats, the ovarian expression of CXCL12, CXCR4, and CXCR7 was reduced, and the apoptosis rate of granulosa cells was increased, accompanied by decreased expression of BCL2 and increased expression of BAX and cleaved CASPASE3 (CASP3). We further showed that recombinant human CXCL12 treatment upregulated BCL2, downregulated BAX, and cleaved CASP3 in KGN cells to inhibit their apoptosis in a concentration-dependent manner; moreover, the effect of CXCL12 was weakened by CXCR4 antagonist AMD3100 and anti-CXCR7 neutralizing antibody. In conclusion, PCOS rats showed decreased CXCL12, CXCR4, and CXCR7 expression and increased apoptosis rate of ovarian granulosa cells. Further, in human KGN cells, CXCL12 regulated the expression of BAX, BCL2, and cleaved CASP3 to inhibit apoptosis through CXCR4- and CXCR7-mediated signal transmission. These findings may provide a theoretical and practical basis for illuminating the role of proinflammatory cytokines in the pathogenesis of PCOS.

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Yingying Zhou, Yangying Peng, Qingqing Xia, Dewen Yan, Huiping Zhang, Lingmin Zhang, Ying Chen, Xiumin Zhao, and Jie Li

Indian hedgehog (Ihh) signaling regulates endometrial receptivity and is an indispensable mediator of embryonic implantation. Hedgehog signaling is known to regulate autophagy, and aberrant regulation of autophagy is critically implicated in the pathogenesis of endometriosis and adenomyosis. However, potential dysregulation of Ihh signaling and its role in autophagy modulation in these diseases remain obscure. In this study, we found that components of Ihh signaling were significantly decreased, whereas the autophagy marker protein, LC3BII, was significantly increased in endometrial tissues of women with endometriosis or adenomyosis. Inhibition of Ihh signaling with the small-molecule inhibitor GANT61 or Gli1 silencing in primary endometrial stromal cells increased autophagic activity, as measured by LC3 turnover assay and tandem mCherry-eGFP-LC3B fluorescence microscopy. Furthermore, we observed that GANT61 treatment significantly attenuated hydrogen peroxide-induced cell death, whereas disruption of autophagy with chloroquine diminished this effect. Collectively, these findings reveal that Ihh signaling is suppressed in endometrial tissues of patients with endometriosis or adenomyosis. This abnormal decrease may contribute to endometrial autophagy activation, which may promote aberrant survival of endometrial cells in ectopic sites in these two gynecological diseases.

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Vasiliki E. Mourikes and Jodi A Flaws

The ovaries play a critical role in female reproductive health because they are the site of oocyte maturation and sex steroid hormone production. The unique cellular processes that take place within the ovary make it a susceptible target for chemical mixtures. Herein, we review the available data regarding the effects of chemical mixtures on the ovary, focusing on development, folliculogenesis, and steroidogenesis. The chemical mixtures discussed include those to which women are exposed to environmentally, occupationally, and medically. Following a brief introduction to chemical mixture components, we describe the effects of chemical mixtures on ovarian development, folliculogenesis, and steroidogenesis. Further, we discuss the effects of chemical mixtures on corpora lutea and transgenerational outcomes. Identifying the effects of chemical mixtures on the ovaries is paramount to preventing and treating mixture-inducing toxicity of the ovary that has long-term consequences such as infertility and ovarian disease.

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Atsuo Ogura, Shogo Matoba, and Kimiko Inoue

Twenty-five years have passed since the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammalian clone produced by adult somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). During that time, the main thrust of SCNT-related research has been the elucidation of SCNT-associated epigenetic abnormalities and their correction, with the aim of improving the efficiency of cloned animal production. Through these studies, it has become clear that some epigenomic information can be reprogrammed by the oocyte, while some cannot. Now we know that the imprinting memories in the donor genome, whether canonical (DNA-methylation-dependent) or noncanonical (H3K27me3-dependent), are not reprogrammed by SCNT. Thus, SCNT-derived embryos have the normal canonical imprinting and the erased noncanonical imprinting, both being inherited from the donor cells. The latter can cause abnormal phenotypes in SCNT-derived placentas arising from biallelic expressions of noncanonically imprinted genes. By contrast, repressive epigenomic information, such as DNA methylation and histone modifications, might be more variably reprogrammed, leaving room for technical improvements. Low-input analytical technologies now enable us to analyze the genome of gametes and embryos in a high-throughput, genome-wide manner. These technologies are being applied rapidly to the SCNT field, providing evidence for incomplete reprogramming of the donor genome in cloned embryos or offspring. Insights from the study of epigenetic phenomena in SCNT are highly relevant for our understanding of the mechanisms of genomic reprogramming that can induce totipotency in the mammalian genome.

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Yu Tian and Li-quan Zhou

Invasion or damage of the male reproductive system is one of the reported outcomes of viral infection. Current studies have documented that SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, can damage the male reproductive system in large part by inflammatory damage caused by a cytokine storm. However, whether SARS-CoV-2 can infect the human testis directly and enter semen is controversial. Other adverse effects of SARS-CoV-2 on male reproduction are also of concern and require comprehensive evaluation. Here, we analyze the invasiveness of SARS-CoV-2 in the testis and examine reported mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 interferes with male reproduction. Long-term implications of SARS-CoV-2 infection on male reproduction are also discussed. It should be emphasized that although COVID-19 may induce testicular damage, a substantial decrease in male reproductive capacity awaits clinical evidence. We propose that there is an urgent need to track male COVID-19 patients during their recovery. The development of suitable experimental models, including human reproductive organoids, will be valuable to further investigate the viral impact on reproduction for current and future pandemics.

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Madhulika Pathak, Venkatappa Vani, Surendra Sharma, and Polani B Seshagiri

Mammalian blastocyst hatching is a critically indispensable process for successful implantation. One of the major challenges in IVF clinics is to achieve superior embryonic development with intrinsically potent hatching-competent blastocyst. However, the molecular regulation of hatching phenomenon is poorly understood. In this study, we examined the expression and function of one of the cytokines, IL-1β during blastocyst hatching in the mouse. In particular, the expression of IL-1β (Interleukin-1β), IL-1ra (Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist) and their functional receptor IL-1rt1 (Interleukin 1 receptor type-1) in morulae, zona intact- and hatched-blastocysts was studied. Supplementation of IL-1β to cultured embryos accelerated blastocyst development with improved hatching (treated: 89.6 ± 3.6% vs untreated: 65.4 ± 4.1%). When embryos were treated with IL-1ra, blastocyst hatching was decreased (treated: 28.8 ± 3.1% vs untreated: 67.5 ± 3.8%). Moreover, IL-1β and IL-1ra influenced the expression of hatching enzymes viz., implantation serine proteases (ISP1 and ISP2). While IL-1β increased the embryonic mRNA expression of ISPs (Isp1: 2–4; Isp2: 9- to 11-fold), IL-1ra decreased expression. The protein localization studies revealed increased nuclear presence predominantly of ISP 2 in IL-1β-treated blastocysts. This is the first report to show the functional significance of embryonic IL-1β in regulating hatching-associated proteases, particularly ISP2. These findings have implications in our understanding of molecular regulation of blastocyst hatching and implantation failure in other species including humans.

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Chao Du, John S Davis, Chao Chen, Zan Li, Ye Cao, Hui Sun, Bao-Shun Shao, Yu-Xin Lin, Yong-Sheng Wang, Li-Guo Yang, and Guo-Hua Hua

Fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2), a member of FGF family, binds with FGF receptors (FGFR) to initiate biological functions in various somatic cells. However, little is known regarding the role of FGF2/FGFR on oocyte meiosis. In this study, we investigated expression patterns and functions of FGF2/FGFR during in vitro maturation (IVM) of mouse cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs). Among four FGFRs, Ffgr1 was the most abundant in COCs. The transcripts for Fgf2 and Ffgr1 in COCs increased during IVM. Ffgr1 was present in oocytes and cumulus cells, while Fgf2 was present in only cumulus cells. Treatment of COCs with the selective FGFR inhibitor SU5402 blocked oocyte meiotic progression and downregulated expression of Bmp15 and Gdf9. In contrast, supplement of FGF2 promoted oocyte meiotic progression and upregulated Bmp15 and Gdf9 expression. Inhibition of FGFR with SU5402 reduced cumulus expansion and expressions of Ptx3, Has2 and Tnfaip6. Treatment with FGF2 increased Ptx3 and Has2 expression. Inhibition of FGFR had no effect on meiotic progression of denuded oocytes (DOs). However, co-culture of DOs with COCs or supplementation with FGF2 promoted meiotic progression of DOs. Inhibition of FGF2/FGFR signaling also downregulated Ffgr1 expression, while supplemental FGF2 upregulated Fgfr1 expression. Furthermore, inhibition of FGFR in COCs interrupted the c-Mos/MAPK pathway and maturation-promoting factor (MPF), as indicated by downregulation of oocyte c-mos and Ccnb1 transcripts, respectively. Overall, this study suggests that FGF2 produced by cumulus cells, activates a FGF2/FGFR autocrine/paracrine loop within COCs to regulate cumulus expansion and oocyte meiosis. These findings reveal a novel role for FGF2/FGFR signaling during in vitro maturation of COCs.

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Xiaoxu Chen, Qian Sun, Yi Zheng, Zidong Liu, Xiangqian Meng, Wenxian Zeng, and Hongzhao Lu

Infertility caused by male factors is routinely diagnosed by assessing traditional semen parameters. Growing evidence has indicated that the tsRNAs carried in sperm act as epigenetic factors and potential biomarkers for the assessment of sperm quality. We recently demonstrated that tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs played notable roles in the first cleavage of a porcine embryo. However, the function of human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs as a diagnostic biomarker and its role in early embryo development remains unclear. In this study, we found that human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs were highly associated with sperm quality. By microinjecting the antisense sequence into human tripronuclear (3PN) zygotes followed by single-cell RNA-sequencing, we found that human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs participated in the development of a human embryo. Furthermore, Gln-TTGs might influence embryonic genome activation by modulating noncoding RNA processing. These findings demonstrated that human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs could be potential diagnostic biomarkers and could be used as a clinical target for male infertility.