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Renjie Wang, Wei Pan, Lei Jin, Yuehan Li, Yudi Geng, Chun Gao, Gang Chen, Hui Wang, Ding Ma and Shujie Liao

Artificial intelligence (AI) has experienced rapid growth over the past few years, moving from the experimental to the implementation phase in various fields, including medicine. Advances in learning algorithms and theories, the availability of large datasets and improvements in computing power have contributed to breakthroughs in current AI applications. Machine learning (ML), a subset of AI, allows computers to detect patterns from large complex datasets automatically and uses these patterns to make predictions. AI is proving to be increasingly applicable to healthcare, and multiple machine learning techniques have been used to improve the performance of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Despite various challenges, the integration of AI and reproductive medicine is bound to give an essential direction to medical development in the future. In this review, we discuss the basic aspects of AI and machine learning, and we address the applications, potential limitations and challenges of AI. We also highlight the prospects and future directions in the context of reproductive medicine.

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Tine-Tsan Lin, Po-Chiang Lan, Yi-Jui Hsieh and Yung-Song Wang

Japanese eels are commercially valuable species in Asian aquaculture. This study evaluated whether salmon pituitary extract (SPE) or 17β-estradiol (E2) treatment can induce cytotoxic activity in eel ovarian follicles. Follicular cells died after exposure SPE for 24-h culture in an in vitro culture. Moreover, the E2 treatment also significantly reduced follicular cell counts. These results reveal that the inhibition of follicular cell numbers by SPE may occur through SPE-induced steroidogenesis. Results of a quantitative PCR analysis indicated that adding E2 to the culture decreased bcl2 and increased dnmt1 mRNA expression in Japanese eel follicular cells after 24 h. The results of a promoter assay revealed that E2 significantly increase dnmt1 promoter activity through estrogen receptor-binding site. An in silico analysis predicted several putative transcription factors targeting the bcl2 gene promoter region. Methylation of the bcl2 promoter accounted for the downregulation of bcl2 by E2-mediated dnmt1. The DNA methylation level of the bcl2 gene was significantly higher in E2-treated follicular cells than that in the control group. Finally, the E2-induced hypermethylation pattern of the bcl2 promoter and the reduction in follicular cell numbers were suppressed by adding an MTase inhibitor. Our findings demonstrate that estrogen has a negative effect on the reproductive system of female eels by regulating an epigenetic mechanism during artificial maturation.

Free access

Meritxell Jodar

The paternal contribution to the new individual is not just limited to half the diploid genome. Recent findings have shown that sperm delivers to the oocyte several components, including a complex population of RNAs, which may influence early embryo development and the long-term phenotype of the offspring. Although the majority of sperm RNAs may only represent spermatogenic leftovers with no further function, the male gamete provides a specific set of RNAs to the oocyte that is able to modulate gene expression in the preimplantation embryo. Those sperm transcripts include coding and non-coding RNAs that might either be translated by the oocyte machinery or directly regulate embryo gene expression at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional level. Interestingly, some sperm RNAs seem to be acquired during post-testicular maturation through active communication between sperm and epididymal and seminal exosomes released by the epididymis and the male accessory sex glands, respectively. Exosomes contained in the seminal plasma seem to not only interact with the spermatozoa but also with cells from the female reproductive tract, modulating their gene expression and influencing female immune response triggered by the semen. This review also considers the findings that indicate the role of semen RNAs in preimplantation embryo development and offspring phenotypes. In this regard, different studies supporting the hypothesis of paternal epigenetic inheritance of altered metabolic phenotypes associated with environmental exposures are discussed. Lastly, potential mechanisms that could explain the impact of semen RNAs to both early embryogenesis and paternal epigenetic inheritance are suggested.

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Róisín A Griffin, Mark Baker, Robert John Aitken, Aleona Swegen and Zamira Gibb

Stallions experience lower per-cycle conception rates compared to other livestock species, largely because they are selected for breeding based on athletic prowess and not reproductive fitness. Mares are seasonal breeders, and pregnancies cannot be detected until 10–14 days post cover via transrectal ultrasonography. This means the detection of stallion fertility fluctuations is delayed by at least 2 weeks, which within the short breeding season employed by the thoroughbred horse breeding industry, can prove quite costly. For these reasons, there is increased demand for robust laboratory assays aimed at the accurate assessment of stallion fertility. This paper reviews our existing knowledge concerning the molecular mechanisms that underpin the functional competence of stallion spermatozoa, highlighting the relative importance of oxidative stress, DNA damage, sperm proteomics and RNA profile. We also consider the way in which fundamental improvements in our understanding of stallion sperm biology are informing the identification and development of possible biomarkers of fertility and thus avenues for the development of specific assays for fertility prediction.

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S Marchiani, L Tamburrino, G Farnetani, M Muratori, L Vignozzi and E Baldi

Epidemiological studies reported a negative relationship between concentrations of heavy metals and phthalates in seminal fluid and semen quality, likely compromising male fertility potential. The aim of this study was to investigate the in vitro effects of cadmium chloride (CdCl2), a common heavy metal, and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), a common phthalate ester, on human sperm functions necessary for fertilization. After in vitro incubation of spermatozoa with 10 µM CdCl2 or 100 and 200 µM DIBP for 24 h, a significant decrease of sperm progressive and hyperactivated motility was observed. The exposure to each of the two toxic agents also induced spontaneous sperm acrosome reaction and blunted the physiological response to progesterone. Both agents induced an increase of caspase activity suggesting triggering of an apoptotic pathway. Our results suggest that acute exposure of spermatozoa to these pollutants may impair sperm ability to reach and fertilize the oocyte.

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Su Liu, Hongxia Wei, Yuye Li, Lianghui Diao, Ruochun Lian, Xu Zhang and Yong Zeng

During pregnancy, the maternal immune system must tolerate the persistence of semi-allogeneic fetus in the maternal tissue. Inadequate recognition of fetal antigens may lead to pregnancy complications, such as recurrent miscarriage (RM) and recurrent implantation failure (RIF). Dendritic cells (DCs) are key regulators of protective immune responses and the development and maintenance of tolerance. Regarding that DCs are important in the establishment of immune tolerance in human pregnancy, it would be important to study the microenvironment in which DCs reside or are activated may affect their functions toward tolerance rather than active immune response. IL-10 plays a critical role in the maintenance of normal pregnancy, and the increased production of IL-10 is associated with successful pregnancy. In this study, we provide an in-depth comparison of the phenotype and cytokine production by DC-10 and other DC subsets, such as iDC and mDC. CD14+ monocyte-derived DCs were differentiated in the presence of IL-10 (DC-10) in vitro from ten normal fertile controls, six RM women and seven RIF women, and characterized for relevant markers. DC-10 was characterized by relatively low expression of costimulatory molecule CD86, as well as MHC class II molecule HLA-DR, high expression of tolerance molecules HLA-G, ILT2, ILT4 and immunosuppressive cytokine IL-10, but produced little or no proinflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-12p70. Our study provides a better understanding of the phenotypical properties of DC-10, which may participate in the complex orchestration that leads to maternal immune tolerance and homeostatic environment in human pregnancy.

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Alissa Richmond Armstrong

Observed in a wide variety of organism, from invertebrates to mammals, nutritional status modulates the energetically costly effort of producing female gametes. Despite this long-standing link between nutrition and ovarian function, relatively little is known about the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie how dietary components modulate egg production. Drosophila melanogaster, with its powerful and extensive genetic tools as well as its well-characterized ovarian response to diet, has proven to be instrumental in addressing this issue. This review covers what we currently know about the dietary control of oogenesis in Drosophila and the salient features of the fruit fly that make it a model for nutritional control of ovarian function.

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Andrew T Major, Cathryn A Hogarth, Julia C Young, Yasuyuki Kurihara, David A Jans and Kate L Loveland

Expression profiles and subcellular localisations of core Drosophila behaviour/human splicing (DBHS) proteins (PSPC1, SFPQ and NONO) and NEAT1, a long noncoding RNA (lncRNA), are investigated in developing and adult mouse testes. Core DBHS proteins are markers for the distinct subnuclear domain termed paraspeckles, while a long NEAT1 isoform scaffold facilitates paraspeckle nucleation. Paraspeckles contain many proteins (>40) and are broadly involved in RNA metabolism, including transcriptional regulation by protein sequestration, nuclear retention of A-to-I edited RNA transcripts to regulate translation and promoting survival during cellular stress. Immunohistochemistry reveals cell-specific profiles for core DBHS paraspeckle protein expression, indicating their functional diversity. PSPC1 is an androgen receptor co-activator, and it is detected in differentiating Sertoli cell nuclei from day 15 onwards, as they develop androgen responsiveness. PSPC1 is nuclear in the most mature male germ cell type present at each age, from foetal to adult life. In adult mouse testes, PSPC1 and SFPQ are present in Sertoli cells, spermatocytes and round spermatids, while the NEAT1 lncRNA appears in the punctate nuclear foci delineating paraspeckles only within Leydig cells. Identification of NEAT1 in the cytoplasm of spermatogonia and spermatocytes must reflect non-paraspeckle-related functions. NONO was absent from germ cells but nuclear in Sertoli cells. Reciprocal nuclear profiles of PSPC1 and γ-H2AX in spermatogenic cells suggest that each performs developmentally regulated roles in stress responses. These findings demonstrate paraspeckles and paraspeckle-related proteins contribute to diverse functions during testis development and spermatogenesis.

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Sarah J Delforce, Eugenie R Lumbers, Stacey J Ellery, Padma Murthi and Kirsty G Pringle

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) is a pregnancy complication wherein the foetus fails to reach its growth potential. The renin–angiotensin system (RAS) is a critical regulator of placental function, controlling trophoblast proliferation, angiogenesis and blood flow. The RAS significantly influences uteroplacental blood flow through the balance of its vasoconstrictive and vasodilatory pathways. Although the RAS is known to be dysregulated in placentae from women with preeclampsia, the expression of the RAS has not yet been studied in pregnancies compromised by FGR alone. This study investigated the mRNA expression and protein levels of RAS components in placentae from pregnancies compromised by FGR. Angiotensin II type 1 receptor (AGTR1) and angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) mRNA levels were reduced in FGR placentae compared with control (P = 0.012 and 0.018 respectively). Neprilysin (NEP) mRNA expression was lower in FGR placentae compared with control (P = 0.004). mRNA levels of angiotensinogen (AGT) tended to be higher in FGR placentae compared with control (P = 0.090). Expression of prorenin, AGT, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) or ACE2 proteins were similar in control and FGR placentae. The renin-AGT reaction is a first order reaction so levels of expression of placental AGT determine levels of Ang II. Decreasing levels of ACE2 and/or NEP by limiting the production of Ang-(1-7), which is a vasodilator, and increasing placental Ang II levels (vasoconstrictor) may result in an imbalance between the vasoconstrictor and vasodilator arms of the placental RAS. Ultimately this dysregulation of the placental RAS could lead to reduced placental perfusion that is evident in FGR.

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Yu-Yin Liu, Yu-Kai Liu, Wen-Ting Hu, Ling-Li Tang, Yan-Ran Sheng, Chun-Yan Wei, Ming-Qing Li and Xiao-Yong Zhu

Endometriosis (EMS) is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by the presence of extrauterine endometrial tissues. It has been previously reported that the refluxed blood containing viable endometrial tissues and the defective elimination of peritoneal macrophages in the pelvic cavity may involve in EMS pathogenesis. However, the mechanism by which macrophages exhibit attenuated phagocytic capability in EMS remains undetermined. Herein, we found that heme, the byproduct of lysed erythrocytes, accumulated abnormally in the peritoneal fluid (PF) of patients with EMS (14.22 μmol/L, 95% confidence interval (CI): 12.54–16.71), compared with the EMS-free group (9.517 μmol/L, 95% CI: 8.891–10.1053). This abnormal accumulation was not associated with the color of PF, phase of the menstrual cycle or severity of the disease. The reduced phagocytic ability of peritoneal macrophages (pMφs) was observed in the EMS group. Consistently, a high-concentration (30 μmol/L) heme treatment impaired EMS-pMφs phagocytosis more than a low-concentration (10 μmol/L) heme treatment. A similar phenomenon was observed in the EMS-free control pMφs (Ctrl-pMφs) and the CD14+ peripheral monocytes (CD14+ Mos). These results indicated that a high heme concentration exhibits a negative effect on macrophage phagocytosis, which supplements the mechanism of impaired scavenger function of pMφs in EMS.