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Natalie A Trigg, Andrew L Eamens and Brett Nixon

It is now well established that mature spermatozoa harbour a rich and diverse profile of small non-protein-coding regulatory RNAs (sRNAs). There is also growing appreciation that this sRNA profile displays considerable plasticity, being altered in response to paternal exposure to a variety of environmental stressors. Coupled with evidence that upon delivery to the oocyte at the moment of fertilisation, sperm-borne sRNAs are able to influence both early embryonic development and the subsequent health of the offspring, there is now interest in both the timing and degree of change in the composition of the sRNA cargo of sperm. Models in which such epigenetic changes are linked to the spermatogenic cycle are seemingly incompatible with the lack of overt phenotypic changes in the spermatozoa of affected males. Rather, there is mounting consensus that such changes are imposed on sperm during their transit and storage within the epididymis, a protracted developmental window that takes place over several weeks. Notably, since spermatozoa are rendered transcriptionally and translationally silent during their development in the testes, it is most likely that the epididymis-documented alterations to the sperm sRNA profile are driven extrinsically, with a leading candidate being epididymosomes: small membrane enclosed extracellular vesicles that encapsulate a complex macromolecular cargo of proteins and RNAs, including the sRNAs. Here, we review the role of epididymosome–sperm communication in contributing to the establishment of the sperm sRNA profile during their epididymal transit.

Restricted access

Changwon Yang, Gwonhwa Song and Whasun Lim

In humans, pregnancy maintenance depends on normal placental formation following trophoblast invasion into the endometrium and vascular remodeling. In the early stages of pregnancy, immune tolerance, inflammatory response, and adaptation to hypoxia need to be precisely regulated in the placental microenvironment. Various types of cells, such as trophoblasts, endothelial cells, immune cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and adipocytes, induce normal placental development via intercellular interactions through soluble factors. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are used to diagnose various diseases because their constituents vary depending on the type of cell of origin and pathological characteristics. EV-derived microRNAs (miRNAs) and proteins in the placenta regulate inflammatory responses and the invasion of trophoblasts through intercellular delivery in the placental microenvironment. If the placenta does not adapt to the changed environment during early pregnancy, pregnancy disorders such as pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, and gestational diabetes mellitus can occur. Thus, the important roles of EVs during pregnancy and development is fast emerging. This review describes the physiological role of EVs during placentation and their composition in the human placenta. It also suggests the possibility of finding EV markers that can diagnose pregnancy disorders. Furthermore, it describes the properties of EVs that affect pregnancy in livestock.

Open access

Hang Qi, Guiling Liang, Jin Yu, Xiaofeng Wang, Yan Liang, Xiaoqing He, Tienan Feng and Jian Zhang

MicroRNA (miRNA) expression profiles in tubal endometriosis (EM) are still poorly understood. In this study, we analyzed the differential expression of miRNAs and the related gene networks and signaling pathways in tubal EM. Four tubal epithelium samples from tubal EM patients and five normal tubal epithelium samples from uterine leiomyoma patients were collected for miRNA microarray. Bioinformatics analyses, including Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA), Gene Ontology (GO) analysis and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathway analysis, were performed. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) validation of five miRNAs was performed in six tubal epithelium samples from tubal EM and six from control. A total of 17 significantly differentially expressed miRNAs and 4343 potential miRNA-target genes involved in tubal EM were identified (fold change >1.5 and FDR-adjusted P value <0.05). IPA indicated connections between miRNAs, target genes and other gynecological diseases like endometrial carcinoma. GO and KEGG analysis revealed that most of the identified genes were involved in the mTOR signaling pathway, SNARE interactions in vesicular transport and endocytosis. We constructed an miRNA-gene-disease network using target gene prediction. Functional analysis showed that the mTOR pathway was connected closely to tubal EM. Our results demonstrate for the first time the differentially expressed miRNAs and the related signal pathways involved in the pathogenesis of tubal EM which contribute to elucidating the pathogenic mechanism of tubal EM-related infertility.

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Zubing Cao, Tengteng Xu, Xu Tong, Dandan Zhang, Chengxue Liu, Yiqing Wang, Di Gao, Lei Luo, Ling Zhang, Yunsheng Li and Yunhai Zhang

HASPIN kinase-catalyzed phosphorylation of histone H3 on threonine 3 (H3T3p) directs the activity and localization of chromosomal passenger complex (CPC) and spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) to regulate chromosome condensation and segregation in both mitosis and meiosis. However, the function of HASPIN kinase in the meiotic maturation of porcine oocytes is not yet known. Here, we found that HASPIN mRNA is constantly expressed in porcine oocyte maturation and subsequent early embryo development. H3T3p is highly enriched on chromosomes at germinal vesicle breakdown (GVBD) stage and thereafter maintains a low level in progression through metaphase I (MI) to metaphase II (MII). Correspondingly, H3T3p was completely abolished in oocytes treated with an inhibitor of HASPIN kinase. Functionally, inhibition of HASPIN activity led to a significant reduction in the rate of oocyte meiotic maturation and the limited cumulus expansion. Additionally, HASPIN inhibition caused both spindle disorganization and chromosome misalignment in oocytes at MI and MII stage. Importantly, HASPIN inhibition severely prevented deacetylation of several highly conserved lysine (K) residues of histone H3 and H4 including H3K9, H3K14, H4K5, H4K8, H4K12 and H4K16 on the metaphase chromosomes during oocyte meiotic maturation. Taken together, these results demonstrate that HASPIN kinase regulates porcine oocyte meiotic maturation via modulating histone deacetylation.

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Ida Björkgren and Petra Sipilä

The epididymis is necessary for post-testicular sperm maturation as it provides the milieu required for spermatozoa to gain the ability for progressive movement and fertilization. In the epididymis the sperm protein, lipid and small RNA content are heavily modified due to interaction with luminal proteins secreted by the epididymal epithelium and extracellular vesicles, epididymosomes. This review focuses on epididymal proteins demonstrated to have an effect on sperm functions, such as motility, capacitation, acrosome reaction, sperm-zona pellucida binding and sperm-egg binding, as well as on embryonic development.

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J Nynca, M Słowińska, S Judycka and A Ciereszko

Rainbow trout sperm are ‘maladapted’ to freshwater spawning, resulting in shorter duration of sperm motility in fresh water compared to buffered saline solution. We hypothesized that different sperm motility-activating media have various effects on sperm motility characteristics and oxidative stress, as well as on the protein profiles of rainbow trout sperm. We designed an experimental model for activation of rainbow trout sperm motility in different osmotic conditions: (i) isosmotic and (ii) hypoosmotic. Spermatozoa activation with hypoosmotic solution was associated with lower values for sperm motility parameters (52%) and an induced increase in ROS level (19.4%) in comparison to isosmotic activation with isosmotic solution (67 and 9.5% for sperm motility and ROS, respectively). Hypoosmotic activation resulted in a higher number of differentially abundant sperm proteins (out of which 50 were identified) compared to isosmotic conditions, where only two spots of protein disulfide-isomerase 6 were changed in abundance. The proteins are mainly involved in the TCA cycle, tight and gap junction signaling, Sertoli cell–Sertoli cell junction signaling and asparagine degradation. Our results, for the first time, indicate that during hypoosmotic activation of sperm motility, osmotic stress triggers oxidative stress and disturbances mostly to structural proteins and metabolic enzymes. Our results strongly suggest that comparative physiological and biochemical analysis of rainbow trout sperm characteristics in isosmotic and hypoosmotic conditions could be a useful model for studying the mechanism of sperm activation in salmonid fish.

Free access

Julia Kim and Emre Seli

Mitochondria play an essential role in generating energy for embryo development and maintaining embryo metabolism through key cellular functions including ion homeostasis, amino acid metabolism, glycolysis, fatty acid metabolism, signal transduction and apoptotic regulation. Recent literature suggests that mitochondrial content and function may be related to implantation success and embryo viability. Some studies have linked increased levels of mitochondrial DNA to aneuploidy, advanced maternal age and euploid blastocyst with implantation failure, while others have failed to demonstrate similar findings. This review aims to provide an overview of the current literature surrounding the possibilities of using mitochondria as an additional biomarker for infertility treatment outcome and summarize the reasons as to why there are inconsistencies in these studies.

Restricted access

Juho-Antti Mäkelä and Robin M. Hobbs

The intricate molecular and cellular interactions between spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) and their cognate niche form the basis for life-long sperm production. To maintain long-term fertility and sustain sufficiently high levels of spermatogenesis, a delicate balance needs to prevail between the different niche factors that control cell fate decisions of SSCs by promoting self-renewal, differentiation-priming or spermatogenic commitment of undifferentiated spermatogonia (Aundiff). Previously the SSC niche was thought to be formed primarily by Sertoli cells. However, recent research has indicated that many distinct cell types within the testis contribute to the SSC niche including most somatic cell populations and differentiating germ cells. Moreover, postnatal testis development involves maturation of somatic supporting cell populations and onset of cyclic function of the seminiferous epithelium. The stochastic and flexible behaviour of Aundiff further complicates the definition of the SSC niche. Unlike in invertebrate species, providing a simple anatomical description of the SSC niche in the mouse is therefore challenging. Rather, the niche needs to be understood as a dynamic system that is able to serve the long-term reproductive function and maintenance of fertility both under steady-state and during development plus regeneration. Recent data from us and others have also shown that Aundiff reversibly transition between differentiation-primed and self-renewing states based on availability of niche-derived cues. This review focuses on defining the current understanding of the SSC niche and the elements involved in its regulation.

Open access

Shou-Bin Tang, Lei-Lei Yang, Ting-Ting Zhang, Qian Wang, Shen Yin, Shi-Ming Luo, Wei Shen, Zhao-Jia Ge and Qing-Yuan Sun

It is demonstrated that repeated superovulation has deleterious effects on mouse ovaries and cumulus cells. However, little is known about the effects of repeated superovulation on early embryos. Epigenetic reprogramming is an important event in early embryonic development and could be easily disrupted by the environment. Thus, we speculated that multiple superovulations may have adverse effects on histone modifications in the early embryos. Female CD1 mice were randomly divided into four groups: (a) spontaneous estrus cycle (R0); (b) with once superovulation (R1); (c) with three times superovulation at a 7-day interval (R3) and (d) with five times superovulation at a 7-day interval (R5). We found that repeated superovulation remarkably decreased the fertilization rate. With the increase of superovulation times, the rate of early embryo development was decreased. The expression of Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog was also affected by superovulation in blastocysts. The immunofluorescence results showed that the acetylation level of histone 4 at lysine 12 (H4K12ac) was significantly reduced by repeated superovulation in mouse early embryos (P < 0.01). Acetylation level of histone 4 at lysine 16 (H4K16ac) was also significantly reduced in pronuclei and blastocyst along with the increase of superovulation times (P < 0.01). H3K9me2 and H3K27me3 were significantly increased in four-cell embryos and blastocysts. We further found that repeated superovulation treatment increased the mRNA level of histone deacetylases Hdac1, Hdac2 and histone methyltransferase G9a, but decreased the expression level of histone demethylase-encoding genes Kdm6a and Kdm6b in early embryos. In a word, multiple superovulations alter histone modifications in early embryos.

Free access

T Leahy, J P Rickard, N C Bernecic, X Druart and S P de Graaf

Ejaculation results in the confluence of epididymal spermatozoa with secretions of the accessory sex glands. This interaction is not a prerequisite for fertilisation success, but seminal factors do play a crucial role in prolonging the survival of spermatozoa both in vitro and in vivo by affording protection from handling induced stress and some selective mechanisms of the female reproductive tract. Reproductive biologists have long sought to identify specific factors in seminal plasma that influence sperm function and fertility in these contexts. Many seminal plasma proteins have been identified as diagnostic predictors of sperm function and have been isolated and applied in vitro to prevent sperm damage associated with the application of artificial reproductive technologies. Proteomic assessment of the spermatozoon, and its surroundings, has provided considerable advances towards these goals and allowed for greater understanding of their physiological function. In this review, the importance of seminal plasma will be examined through a proteomic lens to provide comprehensive analysis of the ram seminal proteome and detail the use of proteomic studies that correlate seminal plasma proteins with ram sperm function and preservation ability.