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D Randall Armant, Graham W Aberdeen, Brian A Kilburn, Gerald J Pepe and Eugene D Albrecht

Placental extravillous trophoblast remodeling of the uterine spiral arteries is important for promoting blood flow to the placenta and fetal development. Heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF), an EGF family member, stimulates differentiation and invasive capacity of extravillous trophoblasts in vitro. Trophoblast expression and maternal levels of HB-EGF are reduced at term in women with preeclampsia, but it is uncertain whether HB-EGF is downregulated earlier when it may contribute to placental insufficiency. A nonhuman primate model has been established in which trophoblast remodeling of the uterine spiral arteries is suppressed by shifting the rise in estrogen from the second to the first trimester of baboon pregnancy. In the present study, we used this model to determine if placental HB-EGF is altered by prematurely elevating estrogen early in baboon gestation. Uterine spiral artery remodeling and placental expression of HB-EGF and other EGF family members were assessed on day 60 of gestation in baboons treated with estradiol (E2) daily between days 25 and 59 of gestation (term = 184 days). The percentages of spiral artery remodeling were 90, 84 and 70% lower (P < 0.01), respectively, for vessels of 26–50, 51–100 and >100 µm diameter in E2-treated compared with untreated baboons. HB-EGF protein quantified by immunocytochemical staining/image analysis was decreased three-fold (P < 0.01) in the placenta of E2-treated versus untreated baboons, while amphiregulin (AREG) and EGF expression was unaltered. Therefore, we propose that HB-EGF modulates the estrogen-sensitive remodeling of the uterine spiral arteries by the extravillous trophoblast in early baboon pregnancy.

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Daniela Weiser, Andrea Mietens, Beatrix Stadler, Davor Ježek, Gerhard Schuler and Ralf Middendorff

Contractions of the adult epididymal duct are well known in the context of sperm transport. Some reports also describe contractions of the epididymal duct during development, but data about their character, regulation and function are sparse. In the foetal human epididymis we found luminal cells and could identify them as exfoliated epithelial cells originating from the epididymis and not from testis by using antibodies against neutral endopeptidase as an epithelial epididymal duct marker. Exfoliated cells were also found in the epididymal duct after birth. Time-lapse imaging revealed directional transport of luminal cells in the neonatal rat epididymis interrupted by pendular movement. Spontaneous contractions were discovered in the neonatal epididymis and an association between these contractions and the transport of the luminal cells could be observed. Both, transport and spontaneous contractions, were affected significantly by substances known to contract (noradrenaline) or relax (the phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor sildenafil) smooth muscle cells. Immunohistochemistry showed staining for the proliferation marker proliferating-cell-nuclear-antigen (PCNA) in cells of the ductal lumen of the neonatal rat epididymis indicating the extrusion of cells also during proliferation. Our data showed spontaneous contractions of the immature epididymal duct associated with the transport of exfoliated luminal cells before the first occurrence of sperm cells. Results suggest an important role including both (i) a mechanical place holder function of exfoliated luminal cells (ii) together with a novel idea of organized waste disposal of these cells during development.

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Rongli Wang and Li Zou

A successful pregnancy crucially depends on well-regulated extravillous trophoblast migration and invasion. Maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3) is a long noncoding RNA that plays an important role in regulating trophoblast cells cell function. As previously reported, the expression of MEG3 was reduced in preeclampsia, and downregulation of MEG3 could suppress trophoblast cells migration and promote its apoptosis. However, the downstream regulatory mechanism of MEG3 remains unknown. As reported, MEG3 could inhibit cell proliferation in endometrial carcinoma by regulating Notch signaling. Our previous studies have demonstrated that Notch1 is downregulated in preeclampsia and that inhibiting the expression of Notch1 could promote trophoblast cell apoptosis. Therefore, this study was designed to investigate the role of MEG3 and its the relationship with Notch1 in trophoblasts. In this study, the mRNA expression levels of both MEG3 and Notch1 were decreased in preeclampsia placenta (n = 15) compared to the normal samples (n = 15). Exogenous upregulation and downregulation of MEG3 in HTR8/SVneo cells were performed to investigate the role of MEG3 in cell biological behavior and its effects on Notch1 expression. The results showed that MEG3 enhancement promoted trophoblast cell migration and invasion and inhibited cell apoptosis. Downregulation of MEG3 elicited the opposite results. Associated factors, such as matrix metalloproteinases 2 (MMP2), BAX, and Bcl-2, were examined at the mRNA and protein levels. Our study demonstrated that MEG3 could regulate Notch1 expression to modulate trophoblast cell migration, invasion, and apoptosis, which may represent the molecular mechanism of poor placentation during preeclampsia.

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Maria Jose Ruiz Magaña, Jose Maria Puerta, Rocio Martínez-Aguilar, Tatiana Llorca, Osmany Blanco, Raquel Muñoz-Fernández, Enrique G Olivares and Carmen Ruiz-Ruiz

Endometrial stromal cells (EnSCs) and decidual stromal cells (DSCs) originate from fibroblastic precursors located around the vessels of the human nonpregnant endometrium and the pregnant endometrium (decidua), respectively. Under the effect of ovarian or pregnancy hormones, these precursors differentiate (decidualize), changing their morphology and secreting factors that appear to be essential for the normal development of pregnancy. However, the different physiological context – that is, non-pregnancy vs pregnancy – of those precursors (preEnSCs, preDSCs) might affect their phenotype and functions. In the present study, we established preEnSC and preDSC lines and compared the antigen phenotype and responses to decidualization factors in these two types of stromal cell line. Analyses with flow cytometry showed that preEnSCs and preDSCs exhibited a similar antigen phenotype compatible with that of bone marrow mesenchymal stem/stromal cells. The response to decidualization in cultures with progesterone and cAMP was evaluated by analyzing changes in cell morphology by microscopy, prolactin and IL-15 secretion by enzyme immunoassay and the induction of apoptosis by flow cytometry. In all four analyses, preDSCs showed a significantly higher response than preEnSCs. The expression of progesterone receptor (PR), protein kinase A (PKA) and FOXO1 was studied with Western blotting. Both types of cells showed similar levels of PR and PKA, but the increase in PKA RI subunit expression in response to decidualization was again significantly greater in preDSCs. We conclude that preEnSCs and preDSCs are equivalent cells but differ in their ability to decidualize. Functional differences between them probably derive from factors in their different milieus.

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Lanlan Fang, Sijia Wang, Yiran Li, Yiping Yu, Yuxi Li, Yang Yan, Jung-Chien Cheng and Ying-Pu Sun

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. Growth differentiation factor-8 (GDF-8) is expressed in the ovary and can be detected in human follicular fluid which provides an important microenvironment for maintaining physiological functions of the ovarian follicle. To date, the relationship between GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid and the risk of PCOS is completely unknown. In the present study, we show that during the process of the controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH), serum GDF-8 levels are higher on the day of gonadotropin administration and 14 days after embryo transfer in in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients with PCOS than they are in IVF patients without PCOS. Importantly, GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid at oocyte retrieval are also higher in PCOS patients than in non-PCOS patients. Treatment of primary human granulosa-lutein (hGL) cells with GDF-8 downregulates StAR protein expression and the inhibition is more pronounced in hGL cells from PCOS patients than it is in cells from non-PCOS patients. Importantly, high GDF-8 levels and low progesterone (P4) levels were associated with poor pregnancy outcomes in PCOS patients. Our results provide the first evidence that aberrant expression of GDF-8 in the follicular fluid of PCOS patients results in abnormal P4 expression, which leads to poor pregnancy outcomes.

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Joyce Mathew, Sze-chi Huang, Jerad H Dumolt, Mulchand S Patel and Todd C Rideout

As a collection of metabolic abnormalities including inflammation, insulin resistance, hypertension, hormone imbalance, and dyslipidemia, maternal obesity has been well-documented to program disease risk in adult offspring. Although hypercholesterolemia is strongly associated with obesity, less work has examined the programming influence of maternal hypercholesterolemia (MHC) independent of maternal obesity or high-fat feeding. This study was conducted to characterize how MHC per se impacts lipid metabolism in offspring. Female (n = 6/group) C57BL/6J mice were randomly assigned to: (1.) a standard chow diet (Control, CON) or (2.) the CON diet supplemented with exogenous cholesterol (CH) (0.15%, w/w) throughout mating and the gestation and lactation periods. At weaning (postnatal day (PND) 21) and adulthood (PND 84), male offspring were characterized for blood lipid and lipoprotein profile and hepatic lipid endpoints, namely cholesterol and triglyceride (TG) accumulation, fatty acid profile, TG production, and mRNA expression of lipid-regulatory genes. Both newly weaned and adult offspring from CH mothers demonstrated increased very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particle number and size and hepatic TG and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid accumulation. Further, adult CH offspring exhibited reduced fatty acid synthase (Fasn) and increased diglyceride acyltransferase (Dgat1) mRNA expression. These programming effects appear to be independent of changes in hepatic TG production and postprandial lipid clearance. Study results suggest that MHC, independent of obesity or high-fat feeding, can induce early changes to serum VLDL distribution and hepatic lipid profile that persist into adulthood.

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Fitore Kusari, Ondrej Mihola, John C Schimenti and Zdenek Trachtulec

Reduced fertility of male mouse hybrids relative to their parents, or hybrid sterility, is governed by the hybrid sterility 1 (Hst1) locus. Rescue experiments with transgenes carrying sequences within or near Hst1 manifested that Hst1 contains the gene encoding meiosis-specific histone methyltransferase PRDM9. The Prdm9 gene is responsible for partial meiotic arrest, testicular atrophy, and low sperm count in (C57BL/6J x PWD)F1 mouse hybrids. Here we report that these male hybrids suffer an additional reproductive disadvantage, decreased sperm quality, which is (i) further exacerbated by the introduction of long transgenes carrying sequences from Hst1 with incomplete Prdm9 into their genome and (ii) controlled by the Prdm9 dosage. These transgenic male hybrids displayed the features of severe oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT), a human infertility syndrome characterized by a low number of spermatozoa with poor motility and morphological abnormalities. Analysis of spermiogenesis in these mice revealed acrosome detachment, aberrant elongation and condensation of the nucleus. As a result, the transgenic sperm had acrosome malformations, abnormal chromatin packaging, and fragmented DNA with elevated base oxidation, revealed by using multiple methods. Heterozygosity for one null Prdm9 allele improved meiotic progression and sperm quality of both non- and transgenic hybrids. Our results indicate that genomic analysis of OAT patients should include consideration of allelic variants in PRDM9, and our transgenic models can serve as tools to understand the diverse molecular processes that, when perturbed, can cause this disease.

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S C Loux, A J Conley, K E Scoggin, H El-Sheikh Ali, P Dini and B A Ball

Steroid production varies widely among species, with these differences becoming more pronounced during pregnancy. As a result, each species has its own distinct pattern of steroids, steroidogenic enzymes, receptors, and transporters to support its individual physiological requirements. Although the circulating steroid profile is well characterized during equine pregnancy, there is much yet to be explored regarding the factors that support steroidogenesis and steroid signaling. To obtain a holistic view of steroid-related transcripts, we sequenced chorioallantois (45 days, 4 months, 6 months, 10 months, 11 months, and post-partum) and endometrium (4 months, 6 months, 10 months, 11 months, and diestrus) throughout gestation, then looked in-depth at transcripts related to steroid synthesis, conjugation, transportation, and signaling. Key findings include: 1) differential expression of HSD17B isoforms among tissues (HSD17B1 high in the chorioallantois, while HSD17B2 is the dominant form in the endometrium) 2) a novel isoform with homology to SULT1A1 is the predominant sulfotransferase transcript in the chorioallantois; and 3) nuclear estrogen (ESR1, ESR2) and progesterone (PGR) expression is minimal to nonexistant in the chorioallantois and pregnant endometrium. Additionally, several hypotheses have been formed, including the possibility that the 45-day chorioallantois is able to synthesize steroids de novo from acetate and that horses utilize glucuronidation to clear estrogens from the endometrium during estrous, but not during pregnancy. In summary, these findings represent an in-depth look at equine steroid-related transcripts through gestation, providing novel hypotheses and future directions for equine endocrine research.

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Kalle T Rytkönen, Taija Heinosalo, Mehrad Mahmoudian, Xinghong Ma, Antti Perheentupa, Laura L Elo, Matti Poutanen and Günter P Wagner

Human reproductive success depends on a properly decidualized uterine endometrium that allows implantation and the formation of the placenta. At the core of the decidualization process are endometrial stromal fibroblasts (ESF) that differentiate to decidual stromal cells (DSC). As variations in oxygen levels are functionally relevant in endometrium both upon menstruation and during placentation, we assessed the transcriptomic responses to hypoxia in ESF and DSC. In both cell types, hypoxia-upregulated genes in classical hypoxia pathways such as glycolysis and the epithelial mesenchymal transition. In DSC, hypoxia restored an ESF-like transcriptional state for a subset of transcription factors that are known targets of the progesterone receptor, suggesting that hypoxia partially interferes with progesterone signaling. In both cell types, hypoxia modified transcription of several inflammatory transcription factors that are known regulators of decidualization, including decreased transcription of STATs and increased transcription of CEBPs. We observed that hypoxia-upregulated genes in ESF and DSC had a significant overlap with genes previously detected to be upregulated in endometriotic stromal cells. Promoter analysis of the genes in this overlap suggested the hypoxia-upregulated Jun/Fos and CEBP transcription factors as potential drivers of endometriosis-associated transcription. Using immunohistochemistry, we observed increased expression of JUND and CEBPD in endometriosis lesions compared to healthy endometria. Overall, the findings suggest that hypoxic stress establishes distinct transcriptional states in ESF and DSC and that hypoxia influences the expression of genes that contribute to the core gene regulation of endometriotic stromal cells.

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Anthony D Horlock, Rachel L Piersanti, Rosabel Ramirez-Hernandez, Fahong Yu, Zhengxin Ma, KwangCheol C Jeong, Martin J D Clift, Jeremy Block, José E P Santos, John J Bromfield and I Martin Sheldon

Infection of the postpartum uterus with pathogenic bacteria is associated with infertility months later in dairy cattle. However, it is unclear whether these bacterial infections lead to long-term changes in the reproductive tract that might help explain this infertility. Here we tested the hypothesis that infusion of pathogenic bacteria into the uterus leads to changes in the transcriptome of the reproductive tract 3 months later. We used virgin Holstein heifers to avoid potential confounding effects of periparturient problems, lactation, and negative energy balance. Animals were infused intrauterine with endometrial pathogenic bacteria Escherichia coli and Trueperella pyogenes (n = 4) and compared with control animals (n = 6). Three months after infusion, caruncular and intercaruncular endometrium, isthmus and ampulla of the oviduct, and granulosa cells from ovarian follicles >8 mm diameter were profiled by RNA sequencing. Bacterial infusion altered the transcriptome of all the tissues when compared with control. Most differentially expressed genes were tissue specific, with 109 differentially expressed genes unique to caruncular endometrium, 57 in intercaruncular endometrium, 65 in isthmus, 298 in ampulla, and 83 in granulosa cells. Surprisingly, despite infusing bacteria into the uterus, granulosa cells had more predicted upstream regulators of differentially expressed genes than all the other tissues combined. In conclusion, there were changes in the transcriptome of the endometrium, oviduct and even granulosa cells, 3 months after intrauterine infusion of pathogenic bacteria. These findings imply that long-term changes throughout the reproductive tract could contribute to infertility after bacterial infections of the uterus.