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Jason A Rizo, Laila A Ibrahim, Paula C C Molinari, Bo R Harstine, Rachel L Piersanti and John J Bromfield

Semen induces post-coital inflammation of the endometrium in several species. Post-coital inflammation is proposed to alter the endometrial environment of early pregnancy, mediate embryonic development and modulate the maternal immune response to pregnancy. In cattle, it is common for pregnancies to occur in the absence of whole semen due to the high utilization of artificial insemination. Here, we have utilized a cell culture system to characterize semen-induced expression of inflammatory mediators in bovine endometrial cells and test the efficacy of transforming growth factor beta as the active agent in mediating any such change. We hypothesize that seminal plasma-derived transforming growth factor beta increases the expression of inflammatory mediators in bovine endometrial cells. Initially, we describe a heat-labile cytotoxic effect of seminal plasma on BEND cells, and a moderate increase in IL1B and IL6 expression. In addition, we show that transforming growth factor beta is present in bovine semen and can increase the expression of endometrial IL6, whereas blocking transforming growth factor beta in semen ameliorates this effect. However, intra-uterine infusion of seminal plasma, sperm or transforming growth factor beta did not alter the endometrial expression of inflammatory mediators. We conclude that bovine semen can modulate endometrial gene expression in vitro, which is partially due to the presence of transforming growth factor beta. It is likely that additional, unidentified, bioactive molecules in semen can alter the endometrial environment. Characterizing bioactive molecules in bovine semen may lead to the development of additives to improve artificial insemination in domestic species.

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Lan Xiao, Qiong Zhang, Xi Huang, Aihua He, Shi Xie and Yanping Li

Uterine peristalsis plays a vital role in fertility and female reproductive health. Although uterine peristalsis is thought to be correlated with some hormones and uterine pathologies, the physiological mechanisms underlying uterine peristalsis remain not quite clear. This study aimed to identify changes in miRNA in the endometrium of patients with abnormally high-frequency (hyper-) and low-frequency (hypo-) peristalsis to clarify whether miRNAs regulate uterine peristalsis. We used a miRNA microarray and RT-qPCR to identify changes in miRNA in endometrial tissue, a collagen gel contraction assay on co-cultured human endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) to analyze how the altered regulation of miRNAs influences uterine smooth muscle (USM) contraction, Western blots and other assays to elucidate the potential mechanisms involved. We found that among several differentially regulated miRNAs, miR-29c-3p was overexpressed in endometrial samples from patients with hypoperistalsis; oxytocin receptor (OXTR) expression was low in endometrial samples from patients with hypoperistalsis. Bioinformatic analysis and luciferase assays indicated that OXTR is a target of miR-29c-3p, which attenuates its expression. Additionally, downregulation of miR-29c-3p in ESC cultures increased the expression of aldo-keto reductase family 1, member C3 (AKR1C3) and increased the release of prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGF2α). Co-cultured ESCs overexpressing miR-29c-3p reduced USM cell contractions; the opposite tendency was found when ESCs were transfected with a miR-29c-3p inhibitor. To conclude, miR-29c-3p in endometrial cells regulates uterine contractility by attenuating the expression of OXTR and reducing PGF2α release.

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Edwin A Mellisho, Mario A Briones, Alejandra E Velásquez, Joel Cabezas, Fidel O Castro and Lleretny Rodríguez-Álvarez

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted by blastocysts may be clinically relevant, as indicator of embryo viability on in vitro fertilization. We tested if the characteristics of EVs secreted during blastulation are related to embryo viability. Morulae were individually cultured in SOF media depleted of EVs until day 7.5 post IVF. Viable embryos were determined by a system of extended in vitro culture of bovine embryos until day 11 (post-hatching development). Afterward, a retrospective classification of blastocyst and culture media was performed based on blastulation time (early blastulation (EB) or late blastulation (LB)) and post-hatching development at day 11 (viable (V) or non-viable embryo (NV)). A total of 254 blastocysts and their culture media were classified in four groups (V-EB, NV-EB, V-LB, NV-LB). Group V-EB had a larger blastocyst diameter (170.8 μm), higher proportion of good-quality blastocysts (77%) and larger mean size of population of EVs (122.9 nm), although the highest concentration of EVs (5.75 × 109 particles/mL) were in group NV-EB. Furthermore, small RNA sequencing detected two biotypes, miRNA (86–91%) and snoRNA (9–14%), with a total of 182 and 32 respectively. In differential expression analysis of miRNAs between V versus NV blastocysts, there were 12 miRNAs upregulated and 15 miRNAs downregulated. Binary logistic regression was used to construct a non-invasive novel model to select viable embryos, based on a combination of variables of blastocyst morphokinetics and EVs characteristics, the ROC-AUC was 0.853. We concluded that characteristics of EVs secreted during blastulation vary depending on embryo quality.

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Claudia Fricke and Mareike Koppik

Ageing is nearly ubiquitous and encompasses all biological functions. We here focus on age-dependent changes in male reproductive capacity across a broad range of animal taxa. While there has been a long-standing focus on mating ability and overall reproductive success, we here highlight the underlying mechanisms that explain loss in fertilisation capacity in ageing males. Fertilisation is mediated by not only the presence of sperm, but also the cocktail of seminal fluid proteins that ensure sperm survival, capacitation and interaction with female physiology. Sperm ageing has received much attention in studies of male reproductive senescence; however, post-mating processes include a number of interlocked steps that together cumulate in successful fertilisation. As such we consider male ability to elicit female post mating responses such as uterine conformational changes, sperm storage and ovulation and the components within the ejaculate that mediate these post-mating processes. For the latter seminal fluid proteins are key and hence we reflect on age-dependent changes in quality of the entire ejaculate and its consequences for male reproductive capacity. While first studies accrue and highlight that changes in the non-sperm fraction can explain substantial variation in senescent male reproductive success and male ability to induce post-mating responses necessary for fertilisation many open questions still remain that warrant further investigations. One being what the potential age-dependent changes in composition are or whether there is a general decline and how this interacts with sperm to affect fertilisation success. Further, the impact females might have to ameliorate these changes will be an area of interest.

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Risako Oda-Sakurai, Hiroshi Yoshitake, Yoshiki Miura, Saiko Kazuno, Takashi Ueno, Akiko Hasegawa, Kenji Yamatoya, Kenji Takamori, Atsuo Itakura, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Satoru Takeda and Yoshihiko Araki

Ts4, an autosperm-monoclonal antibody (mAb), reacts with a specific oligosaccharide (OS) of glycoproteins containing bisecting N-acetylglucosamine residues. Ts4 reactivity was observed against epididymal spermatozoa, testicular germ cells, and the early embryo, but not against major organs in adult mice. In mature testis, Ts4 exhibits immunoreactivity with a germ cell-specific glycoprotein, TEX101, whereas the mAb immunoreacts with alpha-N-acetylglucosaminidase in the acrosomal region of cauda epididymal spermatozoa. Thus, Ts4 seems to react against different molecules throughout spermiogenesis via binding to its OS epitope. Since the Ts4-epitope OS is observed only in reproduction-related regions, the Ts4-reactive OS may play a role in the reproductive process. The aim of this study is to investigate the characteristics of the Ts4-reactive molecule(s) during testicular development. Ts4 reactivity was observed in testes from the prenatal period; however, its distribution changed according to the stage of maturation and was identical to that of the adult testes after 29-day-postpartum (dpp). Ts4 immunoreactivity was detected against a protein with 63 kDa in testis from 1 to 29 dpp. In contrast, Ts4 showed reactivity against some other glycoproteins after 29 dpp, including TEX101 at the 5-week-old stage and onward. To identify the Ts4-reactive 63 kDa molecule, we identified NUP62 as the target of Ts4 in 22 dpp testis using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis. Because NUP62 has been known to play active roles in a variety of cellular processes including mitosis and cell migration, the bisecting GlcNAc recognized by Ts4 on NUP62 may play a role in regulating the early development of germ cells in male gonadal organs.

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Leah E Simon, Zhenghui Liu, George R Bousfield, T Rajendra Kumar and Francesca E Duncan

Female reproductive aging is characterized by a rise in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels during peri-menopause. N-linked glycans are co-translationally attached to the Asn7 and Asn24 residues on the FSHβ subunit. Differences in the number of N-glycans on the FSHβ subunit result in distinct glycoforms: hypo-glycosylated (FSH21/18, glycans absent on either Asn24 or Asn7, respectively) or fully-glycosylated (FSH24, glycans present on both Asn7 and Asn24). The relative abundance of FSH glycoforms changes with advanced reproductive age, shifting from predominantly FSH21/18 in younger women to FSH24 in older women. Previous in vitro studies in granulosa cell lines and in vivo studies using Fshb-null mice showed these glycoforms elicit differential bioactivities. However, the direct effects of FSH glycoforms on the mouse ovarian follicle have not yet been determined. In this study, we isolated secondary follicles from pre-pubertal mice and treated them with 20- or 100 ng/mL purified recombinant FSH glycoforms for 1 h or 18–20 h. Analysis of phosphorylated PKA substrates showed that glycoforms were bioactive in follicles following 1-h treatment, although differential bioactivity was only observed with the 100 ng/mL dose. Treatment of follicles with 100 ng/mL of each glycoform also induced distinct expression patterns of FSH-responsive genes as assessed by qPCR, consistent with differential function. Our results, therefore, indicate that FSH glycoforms are bioactive in isolated murine follicles.

Open access

Lixin Wen, Rongfang Li, Ji Wang and Jine Yi

In this paper, we propose the reproductive stress hypothesis that describes the pregnant females response to reproductive events based upon the activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and sympathetic adrenomedullary system. The main components of the reproductive stress hypothesis can be summarized as follows: (1) events unique to reproduction including empathema, pregnancy, parturition and lactation cause non-specific responses in females, called active reproductive stress; (2) the fetus is a special stressor for pregnant females where endocrine hormones, including corticotropin-releasing hormones and fetal glucocorticoids secreted by the fetus and placenta, enter the maternal circulatory system, leading to another stress response referred to as passive reproductive stress and (3) response to uterine tension and intrauterine infection is the third type of stress, called fetal intrauterine stress. Appropriate reproductive stress is a crucial prerequisite in normal reproductive processes. By contrast, excessive or inappropriate reproductive stress may result in dysfunctions of the reproductive system, such as compromised immune function, leading to susceptibility to disease. The novel insights of the reproductive stress hypothesis have important implications for deciphering the pathogenesis of certain diseases in pregnant animals, including humans, which in turn may be applied to preventing and treating their occurrence.

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Ihshan Akthar, Susan Suarez, Vernadyn Almeda Morillo, Motoki Sasaki, Mohamed Aboul Ezz, Ken-ichi Takahashi, Masayuki Shimada, Mohamed Ali Marey and Akio Miyamoto

We previously reported that sperm binding to cultured monolayers of bovine uterine epithelial cells induces an acute inflammatory response involving the Toll-like receptor (TLR2) signaling pathway. This response serves to clear the uterus of sperm and thereby prepares the endometrium for implantation. The endometrium is lined by surface epithelial cells; however, epithelial cells also line uterine glands. To investigate the source of the immune response, we used an explant model. Explants of bovine endometrium were incubated with bull sperm illuminated by JC1 fluorescent labeling in their mitochondria. The sperm glided over the surface epithelium until they encountered and entered uterine glands, where they remained. Scanning electron microscopy of explants revealed polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) in uterine glands along with the sperm. In the absence of sperm, PMNs were not seen in glands. Incubation of sperm with explants resulted in an acute inflammatory response, seen as upregulation of mRNA expression of IL8, TNFA, IL1B, PGES, and TLR2 in whole explants, as well as increased TNFA protein expression in uterine glands. TLR1/2 antagonist reduced sperm numbers in the glands and inhibited the increase of TNFA. Our observations suggest that uterine glands serve as a site where sperm interact with uterine epithelium to trigger the innate immune response to clear excess sperm from the uterus.

Free access

Alan J Conley and Barry A Ball

Historically, studies on the endocrinology of pregnancy and parturition in horses have made major contributions of relevance to mammals in general. Recent use of liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, measuring multiple steroid hormones simultaneously in blood, foetal and placental tissues throughout normal gestation, and in mares with experimentally induced placentitis, has advanced our current understanding of many of the unusual strategies seen during gestation and at foaling. This includes the stimulation of luteal steroidogeneisis by equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG) from the endometrial cups, resulting in additional androgen and oestrogen secretion. Progesterone declines as the endometrial cups and eCG disappears, replaced by 5α-dihydroprogesterone (DHP), a potent equine progesterone receptor (PR) agonist, as the chorioallantoic placenta develops. Placental steroidogenesis thereafter is influenced by foetal pregnenolone and dehydroepiandrosterone secretion, providing substrate for 5α-pregnane and oestrogen synthesis, an unusual example of a ‘foeto-placental unit’. Foetal gonadal dehydroepiandrosterone fuels placental oestrone sulphate secretion, peaking at higher concentrations in mares than any other species known, declining steadily thereafter to term. Additional 5α-reduced (DHP) metabolites increase from mid-gestation to peak concentrations 3–5 days before foaling, declining prepartum, most likely as a result of selective loss of placental SRD5A1 (5α-reductase) expression and activity. Similar changes occur in mares with experimentally induced placentitis, which is also associated with a decreased ratio of equine PR-B:PR-A in myometrium, suggesting that progestin withdrawal is both systemic (pregnanes) and local (receptor-dependent) in mares. In addition, some steroids detected during equine pregnancy by immuno-assay are not detected by mass spectrometry, further illustrating the immense value of this technology.

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Hae-Jun Yang, Sanghoon Lee, Bo-Woong Sim, Pil-Soo Jeong, Seon-A Choi, Young-Ho Park, Bong-Seok Song, Seung-Bin Yoon, Philyong Kang, Kang-Jin Jeong, Young-Hyun Kim, Jae-Won Huh, Sang-Rae Lee, Deog-Bon Koo, Young-Kug Choo, Ji-Su Kim and Sun-Uk Kim

The developmental competence of in vitro-matured oocytes is still lower than that of the in vivo-matured oocytes due to precocious meiotic resumption and inappropriate cytoplasmic maturation. Although numerous efforts have been attempted to accomplish better in vitro maturation (IVM) condition, only limited progress has been achieved. Thus, a current study was conducted to examine the effects of 6-diazo-5-oxo-l-norleucine (DON, an inhibitor of hyaluronan synthesis) during the first half period of IVM on nuclear/cytoplasmic maturation of porcine oocytes and subsequent embryonic development. Based on the observation of the nucleus pattern, metaphase II (MII) oocyte production rate in 1 µM DON group was significantly higher than other groups at 44 h of IVM. The 1 µM of DON was suggested to be optimal for porcine IVM and was therefore used for further investigation. Meiotic arrest effect of DON was maximal at 6 h of IVM, which was supported by the maintenance of significantly higher intra-oocyte cAMP level. In addition, increased pERK1/2 levels and clear rearrangement of cortical granules in membrane of MII oocytes matured with DON provided the evidence for balanced meiosis progression between nuclear and cytoplasmic maturation. Subsequently, DON significantly improved blastocyst formation rate, total cell numbers, and cellular survival in blastocysts after parthenogenetic activation, in vitro fertilization, and somatic cell nuclear transfer. Altogether, our results showed for the first time that 1 µM DON can be used to increase the yield of developmentally competent MII oocytes by synchronizing nuclear/cytoplasmic maturation, and it subsequently improves embryo developmental competence.