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Hafiza Khatun, Yasuhiko Wada, Toshihiro Konno, Hideki Tatemoto and Ken-ichi Yamanaka

We have previously reported that regulation of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress during in vitro culture acutely increases bovine embryo developmental rate and cryotolerance; these data indicate that ER stress is a critical factor reducing the quality of in vitro-produced embryos. In the current follow-up study, we examined whether ER stress attenuation during in vitro maturation influences meiotic maturation, oocyte quality, and subsequent embryonic development. Bovine cumulus oocyte complexes (COCs) derived from slaughterhouse ovaries were matured with or without tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), a selective inhibitor of ER stress (0, 50, 100, and 200 µM) for 22 h followed by in vitro fertilization, and zygotes were cultured for 8 days. Of the different doses of TUDCA, 100 μM TUDCA significantly increased the maturation rate, and decreased reactive oxygen species in denuded oocytes, and appeared lower number of apoptotic cells in matured COCs. Subsequently, treatment of TUDCA (100 µM) decreased the localization and amount of GRP78/BIP protein level as well as ER stress (GRP78/BIP, PERK, IER1, ATF4, and XBP1) and apoptosis (CHOP and BAX)-related gene expression, while it increased the anti-apoptotic gene BCL2 level in matured COCs. Moreover, addition of TUDCA (100 µM) during IVM significantly improved the blastocyst formation rate (43.6 ± 1.8% vs 49.7 ± 1.3%) and decreased the number of apoptotic cells (7.7 ± 1.1% vs 5.03 ± 0.6%) in blastocysts. These findings suggest that the presence of ER stress during maturation impairs the developmental competence of bovine COCs and that this process can be reversed by TUDCA.

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Julieta Aylen Schander, Julieta Aisemberg, Fernando Correa, Manuel Luis Wolfson, Lorena Juriol, Cora Cymeryng, Federico Jensen and Ana María Franchi

Maternal lifestyle affects both mother health and pregnancy outcome in humans. Several studies have demonstrated that interventions oriented toward reducing stress and anxiety have positive effects on pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, excessive gestational weight, gestational diabetes and preterm birth. In this work, we showed that the environmental enrichment (EE), defined as a noninvasive and biologically significant stimulus of the sensory pathway combined with voluntary physical activity, prevented preterm birth (PTB) rate by 40% in an inflammatory mouse model induced by the systemic administration of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Furthermore, we found that EE modulates maternal metabolism and produces an anti-inflammatory environment that contributes to pregnancy maintenance. In pregnant mice uterus, EE reduces the expression of TLR4 and CD14 (the LPS receptor and its coactivator protein), preventing the LPS-induced increase in PGE2 and PGF2α release and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity. In cervical tissue, EE inhibits cervical ripening events, such as PGE2 release, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 increased activity and neutrophil recruitment, therefore conserving cervical function. It seems that EE exposure could mimic the stress and anxiety-reducing techniques mentioned above, explaining, at least partially, the beneficial effects of having a healthy lifestyle before and during gestation. Furthermore, we propose that designing an EE protocol for humans could be a noninvasive and preventive therapy for pregnancy complications, averting pre-term birth occurrence and dreaded sequelae that are present in the offspring born too soon.

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Y-F Liu, M-Y Li, Y-P Yan, W Wei, B Li, H-Y Pan, Z-M Yang and X-H Liang

Maintenance of a suitable uterine milieu is important for embryo development and subsequent implantation during early pregnancy. High estrogen level in proestrous and estrous stages is essential for uterine anti-bacterial activity during preimplantation period. Lipocalin-2 is an essential molecule which prevents bacterial infection by sequestering iron. In this study, the highest expression of lipocalin-2 is observed in the endometrial epithelium on day 1 of normal pregnancy and pseudopregnancy, which exhibit a similar hormone scenario. By injecting the agonists for estrogen receptor α and estrogen receptor β in ovariectomized mice, we found estrogen receptor α is the dominant member for estrogen regulation on lipocalin-2 expression. Estrogen treatment in estrogen receptor α-knockout mice further confirmed the role of estrogen receptor α. Using published data from whole-genome estrogen receptor α binding site assay, significant estrogen receptor α recruitment peaks are found at the downstream of lipocalin-2 gene after estrogen treatment. Furthermore, to study the anti-bacterial activity of lipocalin-2 in uterus, Escherichia coli is injected to mimic bacterial infection. Our results showed an obvious induction of lipocalin-2 in Escherichia coli-treated group. Taken together, this study indicates estrogen regulation of lipocalin-2 in uterine epithelium is mediated by estrogen receptor α, and lipocalin-2 may have anti-bacterial activity during early pregnancy.

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Elizabeth Soczewski, Esteban Grasso, Lucila Gallino, Vanesa Hauk, Laura Fernández, Soledad Gori, Daniel Paparini, Claudia Perez Leirós and Rosanna Ramhorst

Decidualization denotes the reprogramming of endometrial stromal cells that includes the secretion of different mediators like cytokines, chemokines, and the selective recruitment of immune cells. This physiological process involves changes in the secretome of the endometrial stromal cells leading to the production of immunomodulatory factors. The increased amount of protein secretion is associated with a physiological endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and the resulting unfolded protein response (UPR), allowing the expansion of ER and the machinery to assist the protein folding. Notably, the signaling pathways involved in the ER stress and the UPR are interconnected with the onset of a sterile inflammatory response, as well as with angiogenesis. Both of these processes have a key role in decidualization and placentation, therefore, alterations in them could lead to pregnancy complications. In this review, we will discuss how the induction of ER stress and the UPR processes that accompanies the decidualization are associated with embryo implantation and whether they might condition pregnancy outcome. The ER stress activates/triggers sensing proteins which, among others, induces kinase/RNAse-TXNIP expression, activating the NLRP3 inflammasome. This multiprotein system allows caspase-1 activation, which catalyzes the cleavage of the inactive IL-1β proform toward the mature secretory form, with pro-implantatory effects. However, the sterile inflammatory response should be later controlled in favor of a tolerogenic microenvironment to sustain pregnancy. In accordance, alterations of the ER stress and UPR processes can be reflected in recurrent implantation failures (RIF), recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), or complications associated with deficient placentation, such as preeclampsia (PE).

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R John Aitken

Male and female germ lines are vulnerable to oxidative stress. In spermatozoa, such stress triggers a lipid peroxidation cascade that culminates in the generation of electrophilic lipid aldehydes that bind to DNA and a raft of proteins involved in the delivery of functionally competent cells. One set of targets for these aldehydes are the proteins of the mitochondrial electron transport chain. When this interaction occurs, mitochondrial ROS generation is enhanced leading to the sustained generation of oxidative damage in a self-perpetuating cycle. Such damage affects all aspects of sperm function including motility, sperm-egg recognition, acrosomal exocytosis and sperm-oocyte fusion. Oxidative stress in the male germ line also attacks the integrity of sperm DNA with potential impacts on the developmental capacity of embryos and the health and wellbeing of the offspring. Potential pathways of reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation in male germ cells could involve enhanced lipoxygenase activity, activation of NADPH oxidase and/or electron leakage from mitochondria. Similarly, in the female germ line, both the induction of oocyte senescence following ovulation and the deterioration of oocyte quality with maternal age appear to involve the generation of oxidative damage. In this case, the mitochondria appear to be a particularly important source of ROS compromising the viability and fertilizability of the oocyte and interfering with the normal segregation of chromosomes during meiosis. In light of these considerations, antioxidants should have some role to play in the preservation of reproductive function in both men and women; however, we still await appropriate trials to test this hypothesis.

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Luhan Yang, Claudia Baumann, Rabindranth De La Fuente and Maria M Viveiros

Accurate chromosome segregation relies on correct chromosome-microtubule interactions within a stable bipolar spindle apparatus. Thus, exposure to spindle disrupting compounds can impair meiotic division and genomic stability in oocytes. The endocrine disrupting activity of bisphenols such as bisphenol A (BPA) is well recognized, yet their damaging effects on spindle microtubules (MTs) is poorly understood. Here, we tested the effect(s) of acute exposure to BPA and bisphenol F (BPF) on assembled spindle stability in ovulated oocytes. Brief (4 h) exposure to increasing concentrations (5, 25, and 50 µg/mL) of BPA or BPF disrupted spindle organization in a dose-dependent manner, resulting in significantly shorter spindles with highly unfocused poles and fragmented pericentrin. The chromosomes remained congressed in an abnormally elongated metaphase-like configuration, yet normal end-on chromosome-MT attachments were reduced in BPF-treated oocytes. Live-cell imaging revealed a rapid onset of bisphenol-mediated spindle MT disruption that was reversed upon compound removal. Moreover, MT stability and regrowth were impaired in BPA-exposed oocytes, with few cold-stable MTs and formation of multipolar spindles upon MT regrowth. MT-associated kinesin-14 motor protein (HSET/KIFC1) labeling along the spindle was also lower in BPA-treated oocytes. Conversely, cold stable MTs and HSET labeling persisted after BPF exposure. Notably, inhibition of Aurora Kinase A limited bisphenol-mediated spindle pole widening, revealing a potential interaction. These results demonstrate rapid MT disrupting activity by bisphenols, which is highly detrimental to meiotic spindle stability and organization. Moreover, we identify an important link between these defects and altered distribution of key spindle associated factors as well as Aurora Kinase A activity.

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D Mattar, M Samir, M Laird and P G Knight

Angiogenesis plays an integral role in follicular and luteal development and is positively regulated by several intra-ovarian factors including vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) and fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2). Various transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) superfamily members function as intra-ovarian regulators of follicle and luteal function, but their potential roles in modulating ovarian angiogenesis have received little attention. In this study, we used a bovine theca interna culture model (exhibiting characteristics of luteinization) to examine the effects of TGF-β1 and bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6) on angiogenesis and steroidogenesis. VEGFA/FGF2 treatment promoted endothelial cell network formation but had little or no effect on progesterone and androstenedione secretion or expression of key steroidogenesis-related genes. TGF-β1 suppressed basal and VEGFA/FGF2-induced endothelial cell network formation and progesterone secretion, effects that were reversed by an activin receptor-like kinase 5 (ALK5) inhibitor (SB-431542). The ALK5 inhibitor alone raised androstenedione secretion and expression of several transcripts including CYP17A1. BMP6 also suppressed endothelial cell network formation under VEGFA/FGF2-stimulated conditions and inhibited progesterone secretion and expression of several steroidogenesis-related genes under basal and VEGFA/FGF2-stimulated conditions. These effects were reversed by an ALK1/2 inhibitor (K02288). Moreover, the ALK1/2 inhibitor alone augmented endothelial network formation, progesterone secretion, androstenedione secretion and expression of several steroidogenesis-related genes. The results indicate dual suppressive actions of both TGF-β1 and BMP6 on follicular angiogenesis and steroidogenesis. Further experiments are needed to unravel the complex interactions between TGF-β superfamily signalling and other regulatory factors controlling ovarian angiogenesis and steroidogenesis.

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Bibiana Correia, Maria Inês Sousa and João Ramalho-Santos

Reproduction depends on many factors, from gamete quality to placenta formation, to fetal development. The mTOR pathway is emerging as a major player that integrates several cellular processes in response to a variety of environmental cues that are relevant in many aspects of reproduction. This review provides a general overview, summarizing the involvement of the two mTOR complexes (mTORC1 and mTORC2) in integrating signaling pathways, sensing environmental status, and managing physiological processes inherent to successful reproductive outcomes and pluripotent stem cell function. As a well-known governor of multiple cellular functions, it is not surprising that mTOR has a key regulatory role in determining cell quiescence or differentiation. In the gonads mTOR helps maintain spermatogonial stem cell and follicle identity and tightly regulates differentiation in both systems to ensure proper gamete production. The mTOR pathway is also known to prevent premature follicle exhaustion, while also controlling the blood–testis barrier in the male gonad. In stem cells mTOR again seems to have a role in controlling both pluripotency and differentiation, mirrored by its in vivo roles in the embryo, notably in regulating diapause. Finally, although there are clearly more complex systems intertwined in placental function, mTOR seems to serve as an early checkpoint for development progression and successful implantation.

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Shiyang Zhang, Yunhao Liu, Qian Huang, Shuo Yuan, Hong Liu, Lin Shi, Yi Tian Yap, Wei Li, Jingkai Zhen, Ling Zhang, Rex A Hess and Zhibing Zhang

Intraflagellar transport (IFT) is a conserved mechanism essential for the assembly and maintenance of most eukaryotic cilia and flagella. IFT172 is a component of the IFT complex. Global disruption of mouse Ift172 gene caused typical phenotypes of ciliopathy. Mouse Ift172 gene appears to translate two major proteins; the full-length protein is highly expressed in the tissues enriched in cilia and the smaller 130 kDa one is only abundant in the testis. In male germ cells, IFT172 is highly expressed in the manchette of elongating spermatids. A germ cell-specific Ift172 mutant mice were generated, and the mutant mice did not show gross abnormalities. There was no difference in testis/body weight between the control and mutant mice, but more than half of the adult homozygous mutant males were infertile and associated with abnormally developed germ cells in the spermiogenesis phase. The cauda epididymides in mutant mice contained less developed sperm that showed significantly reduced motility, and these sperm had multiple defects in ultrastructure and bent tails. In the mutant mice, testicular expression levels of some IFT components, including IFT20, IFT27, IFT74, IFT81 and IFT140, and a central apparatus protein SPAG16L were not changed. However, expression levels of ODF2, a component of the outer dense fiber, and AKAP4, a component of fibrous sheath, and two IFT components IFT25 and IFT57 were dramatically reduced. Our findings demonstrate that IFT172 is essential for normal male fertility and spermiogenesis in mice, probably by modulating specific IFT proteins and transporting/assembling unique accessory structural proteins into spermatozoa.

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Theodore T Wing, David W Erikson, Robert C Burghardt, Fuller W Bazer, Kayla J Bayless and Greg A Johnson

Angiogenesis is fundamental to the expansion of the placental vasculature during pregnancy. Integrins are associated with vascular formation; and osteopontin is a candidate ligand for integrins to promote angiogenesis. Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) are released from bone marrow into the blood and incorporate into newly vascularized tissue where they differentiate into mature endothelium. Results of studies in women suggest that EPCs may play an important role in maintaining placental vascular integrity during pregnancy, although little is known about how EPCs are recruited to these tissues. Our goal was to determine the αv integrin mediated effects of osteopontin on EPC adhesion and incorporation into angiogenic vascular networks. EPCs were isolated from 6 h old piglets. RT-PCR revealed that EPCs initially had a monocyte-like phenotype in culture that became more endothelial-like with cell passage. Immunofluorescence microscopy confirmed that the EPCs express platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule, vascular endothelial cadherin, and von Willebrand factor. When EPCs were cultured on OPN-coated slides, the αv integrin subunit was observed in focal adhesions at the basal surface of EPCs. Silencing of αv integrin reduced EPC binding to OPN and focal adhesion assembly. In vitro siRNA knockdown in EPCs,demonstrated that OPN stimulates EPC incorporation into human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) networks via αv-containing integrins. Finally, in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry localized osteopontin near placental blood vessels. In summary, OPN binds the αv integrin subunit on EPCs to support EPC adhesion and increase EPC incorporation into angiogenic vascular networks.