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Maria M Szwarc, Lan Hai, William E Gibbons, Lisa D White, Qianxing Mo, Ramakrishna Kommagani, Rainer B Lanz, Francesco J DeMayo, Bert W O’Malley and John P Lydon

Establishment of a successful pregnancy requires not only implantation of a healthy embryo into a receptive uterus but also progesterone receptor (PGR)-dependent transformation of endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) into specialized decidual cells. Decidual cells support the developing embryo and are critical for placentation. We have previously shown that a known transcriptional coregulator of the PGR, steroid receptor coactivator-2 (SRC-2), is a critical driver of endometrial decidualization in both human and mouse endometrium. However, the full spectrum of genes transcriptionally controlled by SRC-2 in decidualizing ESCs has not been identified. Therefore, using an RNA- and chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing approach, we have identified the transcriptome of decidualizing human ESCs (hESCs) that requires SRC-2. We revealed that the majority of hESC genes regulated by SRC-2 are associated with decidualization. Over 50% of SRC-2-regulated genes are also controlled by the PGR. While ontology analysis showed that SRC-2-dependent genes are functionally linked to signaling processes known to underpin hESC decidualization, cell membrane processes were significantly enriched in this analysis. Follow-up studies showed that retinoid signaling is dependent on SRC-2 during hESC decidualization. Specifically, SRC-2 is required for full induction of the retinol transporter, stimulated by retinoic acid 6 (STRA6), which is essential for hESC decidualization. Together our findings show that a critical subset of genes transcriptionally reprogramed by PGR during hESC decidualization requires SRC-2. Among the multiple genes, pathways and networks that are dependent on SRC-2 during hESC decidualization, first-line analysis supports a critical role for this coregulator in maintaining retinoid signaling during progesterone-driven decidualization.

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Piotr Kaczynski, Monika Baryla, Ewelina Goryszewska, Stefan Bauersachs and Agnieszka Waclawik

Successful establishment and development of pregnancy requires proper communication between developing conceptuses and the maternal reproductive tract. Prostaglandins are key players involved in the regulation of reproductive processes in mammals including pigs. Due to its luteolytic action, prostaglandin F2-alpha (PGF2α) is mainly considered as an undesirable factor during early pregnancy. However, its content in the uterine lumen is elevated in pigs and other mammals. Recently, we reported an important role of PGF2α in the endometrium during early pregnancy in the pig. Thus, the aim of the present study was to determine whether PGF2α can act on porcine trophoblast and if so, to elucidate what effect it could exert. We detected increased expression of PGF2α receptor during the implantation period (from day 14 until day 19 of pregnancy). Global gene expression profiling using microarrays and quantitative PCR studies revealed that PGF2α acting on porcine trophoblast cells in vitro alters expression of genes potentially involved in processes related to implantation, such as cell proliferation, focal adhesion, extracellular matrix binding, cell migration, cytoskeleton organization, immune interactions, ion homeostasis and lipid metabolism. Using primary porcine trophoblast cells, we demonstrated that PGF2α stimulated trophoblast cell proliferation and adhesion to extracellular matrix protein. This was likely mediated by mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK1/3) and focal adhesion kinase (FAK) since we observed increased phosphorylation of MAPK1/3 and FAK in trophoblast cells treated with PGF2α. To conclude, the present report indicates a novel role for PGF2α in the porcine conceptus as a paracrine and autocrine factor supporting pregnancy establishment.

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Peter T Ruane, Rebekka Koeck, Stéphane C Berneau, Susan J Kimber, Melissa Westwood, Daniel R Brison and John D Aplin

In vitro culture during assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) exposes pre-implantation embryos to environmental stressors, such as non-physiological nutritional, oxidative and osmotic conditions. The effects on subsequent implantation are not well understood but could contribute to poor ART efficiency and outcomes. We have used exposure to hyperosmolarity to investigate the effects of stress on the ability of embryos to interact with endometrial cells in an in vitro model. Culturing mouse blastocysts for 2 h in medium with osmolarity raised by 400 mosmol induced blastocoel collapse and re-expansion, but did not affect subsequent attachment to, or invasion of, the endometrial epithelial Ishikawa cell line. Inhibition of stress-responsive c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activity with SP600125 did not affect the intercellular interactions between these embryos and the epithelial cells. Four successive cycles of hyperosmotic stress at E5.5 had no effect on attachment, but promoted embryonic breaching of the epithelial cell layer by trophoblast giant cells in a JNK-dependent manner. These findings suggest that acute stress at the blastocyst stage may promote trophoblast breaching of the endometrial epithelium at implantation and implicates stress signalling through JNK in the process of trophectoderm differentiation into the invasive trophoblast necessary for the establishment of pregnancy. The data may lead to increased understanding of factors governing ART success rates and safety.

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Xuan-Tong Liu, Hui-Ting Sun, Zhong-Fang Zhang, Ru-Xia Shi, Li-Bing Liu, Jia-Jun Yu, Wen-Jie Zhou, Chun-Jie Gu, Shao-Liang Yang, Yu-Kai Liu, Hui-Li Yang, Feng-Xuan Xu and Ming-Qing Li

It has been reported that the impaired cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells and abnormal cytokines that are changed by the interaction between ectopic endometrial cells and immune cells is indispensable for the initiation and development of endometriosis (EMS). However, the mechanism of NK cells dysfunction in EMS remains largely unclear. Here, we found that NK cells in peritoneal fluid from women with EMS highly expressed indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). Furthermore, IDO+NK cells possessed lower NKp46 and NKG2D but higher IL-10 than that of IDO-NK. Co-culture with endometrial stromal cells (nESCs) from healthy control or ectopic ESCs (eESCs) from women with EMS led to a significant increase in the IDO level in NK cells from peripheral blood, particularly eESCs, and an anti-TGF-β neutralizing antibody suppressed these effects in vitro. NK cells co-cultured with ESC more preferentially inhibited the viability of nESCs than eESCs did, and pretreating with 1-methyl-tryptophan (1-MT), an IDO inhibitor, reversed the inhibitory effect of NK cells on eESC viability. These data suggest that ESCs induce IDO+NK cells differentiation partly by TGF-β and that IDO further restricts the cytotoxicity of NK cells in response to eESCs, which provides a potential therapeutic strategy for EMS patients, particularly those with a high number of impaired cytotoxic IDO+NK cells.

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Ha Thi Nguyen, Kurt Jacobs and Claudia Spits

Human pluripotent stem cells have the capacity to self-renew indefinitely and the ability to differentiate into all cell types of a human body. These characteristics instill them with an enormous promise in regenerative medicine, where they could be used in cell, tissue and even organ-based replacement therapy. In this review, we discuss their potential clinical applications and the advantages and pitfalls for the different types of human pluripotent stem cells to transition from the bench to the bedside. We provide an overview of the current clinical trials, and the specific challenges we are still facing, including immune compatibility, suboptimal differentiation, risk of tumor formation and genome instability.

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Sathish Kumar, Geoffrey H Gordon, David H Abbott and Jay S Mishra

Adequate maternal vascular adaptations and blood supply to the uterus and placenta are crucial for optimal oxygen and nutrient transport to growing fetuses of eutherian mammals, including humans. Multiple factors contribute to hemodynamics and structuring of placental vasculature essential for term pregnancy with minimal complications. In women, failure to achieve or sustain favorable pregnancy progression is, not surprisingly, associated with high incidence of antenatal complications, including preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. While the pathogenesis of preeclampsia in women remains unknown, a role for androgens is emerging. The relationship between androgens and maternal cardiovascular and placental function deserves particular consideration because testosterone levels in the circulation of preeclamptic women are elevated approximately two- to three-fold and are positively correlated with vascular dysfunction. Preeclampsia is also associated with elevated placental androgen receptor (AR) gene expression. Studies in animal models mimicking the pattern and level of increase of adult female testosterone levels to those found in preeclamptic pregnancies, replicate key features of preeclampsia, including gestational hypertension, endothelial dysfunction, exaggerated vasoconstriction to angiotensin II, reduced spiral artery remodeling, placental hypoxia, decreased nutrient transport and fetal growth restriction. Taken together, these data strongly implicate AR-mediated testosterone action as an important pathway contributing to clinical manifestation of preeclampsia. This review critically addresses this hypothesis, taking into consideration both clinical and preclinical data.

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Stewart J Russell and Jonathan LaMarre

Hiding in plain sight within the genome of virtually every eukaryotic organism are large numbers of sequences known as transposable elements (TEs). These sequences often comprise 50% or more of the DNA in many mammals and are transcriptionally constrained by DNA methylation and repressive chromatin marks. Individual TEs, when relieved of these epigenetic constraints, can readily move from one genomic location to another, either directly or through RNA intermediates. Demethylation and removal of repressive histone marks during epigenetic reprogramming stages of gametogenesis and embryogenesis render the genome particularly susceptible to increased TE mobilization, which has significant implications for the fidelity of genome replication and subsequent viability of the progeny. Importantly, however, TEs have functionally integrated themselves into developmental events to the extent that complete suppression precludes normal gamete and embryo development. Consequently, multiple mechanisms have evolved to limit the extent of TE expression and mobilization during reprogramming without completely suppressing it. One of the most important TE repression mechanisms is the PIWI/piRNA pathway, in which 25–32 nucleotide RNA molecules known as piRNAs associate with Argonaute proteins from the PIWI clade to form piRISC complexes. These complexes target and silence TEs post-transcriptionally and through the induction of epigenetic changes at the loci from which they are expressed. This review will briefly discuss the intricate molecular détente between TE expression and its suppression by the PIWI pathway, with particular emphasis on mammalian species including human, bovine and murine.

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P J Torres, E M Luque, M F Ponzio, V Cantarelli, M Diez, S Figueroa, L M Vincenti, V P Carlini and A C Martini

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the intragestational role of ghrelin in offspring development and reproductive programming in a mouse model of ghrelin imbalance during pregnancy. Female mice were injected with ghrelin (supraphysiological levels: 4 nmol/animal/day), antagonist (endogenous ghrelin inhibition with (D-Lys3)GHRP-6, 6 nmol/animal/day) or vehicle (control = normal ghrelin levels) throughout the pregnancy. Parameters evaluated in litters were growth, physical, neurobiological and sexual development and, at adulthood, reproductive function. Litter size and initial weight did not vary between treatments. Male pups from dams treated with ghrelin showed higher body weight increase until adulthood (31.7 ± 0.8 vs control = 29.7 ± 0.7, n = 11–14 litters/treatment; P < 0.05). Postnatal physical and neurobiological development was not modified by treatments. The antagonist accelerated male puberty onset, evidenced as earlier testis descent and increased relative testicular weight (antagonist = 0.5 ± 0.0% vs ghrelin = 0.4 ± 0.0% and control = 0.4 ± 0.0%, n = 5–10 litters/treatment; P < 0.05). At adulthood, these males exhibited lower relative testicular weight and reduced sperm motility (63.9 ± 3.6% vs control = 70.9 ± 3.3 and ghrelin = 75.6 ± 3.0, n = 13–15 animals; P < 0.05), without changes in plasma testosterone or fertility. Female pups intragestationally exposed to the antagonist showed earlier vaginal opening (statistically significant only at Day 25) and higher ovarian volume (antagonist = 1085.7 ± 64.0 mm3 vs ghrelin = 663.3 ± 102.8 mm3 and control = 512.3 ± 116.4 mm3; n = 4–6 animals/treatment; P < 0.05), indicating earlier sexual maturation. At adulthood, these females and those exposed to ghrelin showed a tendency to higher percentages of embryo loss and/or foetal atrophy. In conclusion, ghrelin participates in reproductive foetal programming: alterations in ghrelin activity during pregnancy modified body weight increase and anticipated puberty onset, exerting (or tending to) negative effects on adult reproductive function.

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A M English, D A Kenny, C J Byrne, H Sauerwein, C Urh, M A Crowe, C Staub, S M Waters and S Fair

The objective of this study was to examine the effect of nutrition during the first 18 weeks of life on the physiological and transcriptional functionality of the hypothalamic (arcuate nucleus region), anterior pituitary and testes in Holstein–Friesian bull calves. Holstein–Friesian bull calves with a mean (±s.d.) age and bodyweight of 19 (±8.2) days and 47.5 (±5.3) kg, respectively, were assigned to either a HIGH (n = 10) or LOW (n = 10) plane of nutrition, to achieve an overall target growth rate of 1.2 or 0.5 kg/day, respectively. At 126 ± 1.1 days of age, all calves were euthanised. Animal performance (weekly) and systemic concentrations of metabolic (monthly) and reproductive hormones (fortnightly) were assessed. Testicular histology, targeted gene and protein expression of the arcuate nucleus region, anterior pituitary and testes were also assessed using qPCR and immunohistochemistry, respectively. The expression of candidate genes in testicular tissue from post pubertal 19-month-old Holstein–Friesian bulls (n = 10) was compared to that of the 18-week-old calves. Metabolite and metabolic hormone profiles generally reflected the improved metabolic status of the calves on the HIGH (P < 0.001). Calves offered a HIGH plane of nutrition were heavier at slaughter (P < 0.001), had larger testes (P < 0.001), larger seminiferous tubule diameter (P < 0.001), more mature spermatogenic cells (P < 0.001) and more Sertoli cells (P < 0.05) in accordance with both morphological and transcriptional data. Overall, testicular gene expression profiles suggested a more mature stage of development in HIGH compared with LOW and were more closely aligned to that of mature bulls. Ghrelin receptor was the only differentially expressed gene between LOW and HIGH calves in either the anterior pituitary (P < 0.05) or arcuate nucleus region of the hypothalamus (P < 0.10) and was upregulated in LOW for both tissues. This study indicates that an enhanced plane of nutrition during early calfhood favourably alters the biochemical regulation of the hypothalamus–anterior pituitary–testicular axis, advancing testicular development and hastening spermatogenesis.

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Susana Beatriz Rulli, María Julia Cambiasso and Laura Daniela Ratner

In mammals, the reproductive function is controlled by the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis. During development, mechanisms mediated by gonadal steroids exert an imprinting at the hypothalamic–pituitary level, by establishing sexual differences in the circuits that control male and female reproduction. In rodents, the testicular production of androgens increases drastically during the fetal/neonatal stage. This process is essential for the masculinization of the reproductive tract, genitals and brain. The conversion of androgens to estrogens in the brain is crucial for the male sexual differentiation and behavior. Conversely, feminization of the brain occurs in the absence of high levels of gonadal steroids during the perinatal period in females. Potential genetic contribution to the differentiation of brain cells through direct effects of genes located on sex chromosomes is also relevant. In this review, we will focus on the phenotypic alterations that occur on the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis of transgenic mice with persistently elevated expression of the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG). Excess of endogenously synthesized gonadal steroids due to a constant hCG stimulation is able to disrupt the developmental programming of the hypothalamic–pituitary axis in both transgenic males and females. Locally produced estrogens by the hypothalamic aromatase might play a key role in the phenotype of these mice. The ‘four core genotypes’ mouse model demonstrated a potential influence of sex chromosome genes in brain masculinization before critical periods of sex differentiation. Thus, hormonal and genetic factors interact to regulate the local production of the neurosteroids necessary for the programming of the male and female reproductive function.