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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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C Passaro, D Tutt, S Bagés-Arnal, C Maicas, R Laguna-Barraza, A Gutierrez-Adán, J A Browne, D Rath, S K Behura, T E Spencer, T Fair and P Lonergan

The aims of this study were (i) to investigate changes in the global transcriptome of bovine endometrial explants induced by exposure to blastocysts, (ii) to investigate if male and female blastocysts elicit a differential response in the endometrial transcriptome in vitro and (iii) to determine whether bovine endometrium responds to the presence of murine embryos. In Experiment 1, endometrial explants from the same uterus were cultured for 6 h with or without 20 in vitro-produced bovine blastocysts. In Experiment 2, endometrial explants were cultured with male or female bovine blastocysts produced in vitro by IVF either using sex-sorted semen or conventional unsorted semen followed by embryo sexing based on a biopsy. In Experiment 3, endometrial explants were cultured alone or in the presence of bovine blastocysts (n = 25) or murine blastocysts (n = 25). Following culture, explants were snap frozen and stored at −80°C until RNA extraction, qPCR or RNA-Seq. Culture with bovine blastocysts increased endometrial expression of 40 transcripts, all of which were interferon-tau induced. Culture with male or female bovine blastocysts increased transcript abundance of five classic interferon-stimulated genes (MX1, MX2, ISG15, OASY1, RSAD2) in explants; however, there was no difference in abundance of transcripts previously reported to be related to embryonic sex (IFNAR1, IFNAR2, CTGF, ARTN, SLC2A1, SLC2A5). Exposure to murine blastocysts did not elicit any detectable change in transcript abundance. These findings, coupled with our previous data, indicate that very local, interferon-tau-induced changes in endometrial gene expression occur in response to blastocysts; whether such changes play any role in subsequent pregnancy recognition remains to be established.

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Alexandria P Snider and Jennifer R Wood

In the United States, 36.5% of women between the ages of 20 and 39 years are obese. This obesity results in not only metabolic disorders including type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but also impaired female fertility. Systemic and tissue-specific chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are common characteristics of obesity. This is also true in the ovary. Several studies have demonstrated that pro-inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species alter estrous cyclicity, steroidogenesis and ovulation. Inflammation and oxidative stress also impair meiotic and cytoplasmic maturation of the oocyte which reduces its developmental competence for fertilization and pre-implantation embryo development. Interestingly, there is recent evidence that obesity- and/or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)-dependent changes to the gut microbiome contributes to ovarian inflammation, steroidogenesis and the expression of mRNAs in the oocyte. However, several gaps remain necessitating future studies to identify inflammation, oxidative stress and gut microbiome mechanisms that reduce ovarian function and oocyte quality.

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A S Devika, Wasco Wruck, James Adjaye and Smita Sudheer

Pluripotency is the developmental potential of a cell to give rise to all the cells in the three embryonic germ layers, including germline cells. Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) can be embryonic, germ cell or somatic cell in origin and can adopt alternative states of pluripotency: naïve or primed. Although several reports have described the differentiation of PSCs to extra-embryonic lineages, such as primitive endoderm and trophectoderm, this is still debated among scientists in the field. In this review, we integrate the recent findings on pluripotency among mammals, alternative states of pluripotency, signalling pathways associated with maintaining pluripotency and the nature of PSCs derived from various mammals. PSCs from humans and mouse have been the most extensively studied. In other mammalian species, more research is required for understanding the optimum in vitro conditions required for either achieving pluripotency or preservation of distinct pluripotent states. A comparative high-throughput analysis of PSCs of genes expressed in naïve or primed states of humans, nonhuman primates (NHP) and rodents, based on publicly available datasets revealed the probable prominence of seven signalling pathways common among these species, irrespective of the states of pluripotency. We conclude by highlighting some of the unresolved questions and future directions of research on pluripotency in mammals.

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Jock K Findlay, Michael K Holland and Bob B M Wong

Reproductive sciences have made major contributions to human health, livestock production and environmental management in the past and will continue to do so in future. In collaboration with other disciplines, reproductive scientists can provide scientifically valid information that will allow the rational development of policies on topics such as declining fertility in men and women, livestock breeding efficiencies, climate change, pest animal control, wildlife management and environmental influences. It is imperative that the reproductive sciences are recognised by the community and policy makers as important contributors to future health and welfare of animals, humans and the planet if these potential benefits are to be captured and utilised. Reproductive Health Australia (RHA) was launched recently to advocate for reproductive biology as a national health, economic and social priority. This short review provides a snapshot of why it is imperative that reproductive science receives the recognition that is due to it and provides examples of how it can contribute to the future of the planet.

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Zhenzhen Zhang, Changjiu He, Lu Zhang, Tianqi Zhu, Dongying Lv, Guangdong Li, Yukun Song, Jing Wang, Hao Wu, Pengyun Ji and Guoshi Liu

α-Ketoglutarate (α-KG) is an intermediary metabolite in the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and functions to inhibit ATPase and maintain the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells (ESCs); however, little is known regarding the effects of α-KG on the development of preimplantation embryos. Herein, we report that α-KG (150 μM) treatment significantly promoted the blastocyst rate, the number of inner cell mass (ICM) cells and foetal growth after embryo transfer. Mechanistic studies revealed two important pathways involved in the α-KG effects on embryo development. First, α-KG modulates mitochondria function by inducing relatively low ATP production without modification of mitochondrial copy number. The relatively low energy metabolism preserves the pluripotency and competence of the ICM. Second, α-KG modifies epigenetics in embryos cultured in vitro by affecting the activity of the DNA demethylation enzyme TET and the DNA methylation gene Dnmt3a to increase the ratio of 5hmC/5mC ratio. Elevation of the 5hmC/5mC ratio not only promotes the pluripotency of the ICM but also leads to a methylation level in an in vitro embryo close to that in an in vivo embryo. All these functions of α-KG collectively contribute to an increase in the number of ICM cells, leading to greater adaptation of cultured embryos to in vitro conditions and promoting foetal growth after embryo transfer. Our findings provide basic knowledge regarding the mechanisms by which α-KG affects embryo development and cell differentiation.

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Lutz Konrad, Raimund Dietze, Pradeep Kumar Kudipudi, Fabian Horné and Ivo Meinhold-Heerlein

A diagnosis of endometriosis is based upon the histological identification of endometrial tissue at ectopic sites which are commonly located on the pelvic organs, the peritoneum and ovary. In rare cases, ectopic lesions can be found in other organs, such as kidney, bladder, lung or brain. Diagnosis is achieved by laparoscopic intervention followed by histological confirmation of endometriotic tissue. Prevalence is estimated at approximately 10% in the general female population with many patients experiencing pain and/or infertility. Currently, the implantation hypothesis by Sampson is the most accepted hypothesis about the pathogenesis of endometriosis. However, the occurrence of endometriosis in patients with Mayer–Rokitansky–Küster–Hauser (MRKH) syndrome who sometimes lack a uterus or endometrium seems to suggest metaplasia as a cause of endometriosis. A critical reevaluation of the literature about MRKH does not reveal conclusive evidence of an association of uterus/endometrium agenesis and endometriosis. Most often only MRI diagnoses of uterus/endometrium agenesis and only very rarely conclusive histological evidence of the endometriotic lesions are presented. In contrast, whenever biopsies were performed endometriosis always appeared together with uterus/endometrium remnants. Taken together, we suggest that MRKH patients only develop endometriosis if a uterus/endometrium is present which underscores and not contradicts the implantation hypothesis of Sampson.

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Irene Mytilinaiou, Kiki Sarganaki, Eirini Sachouli, Sofia Tsagdi, Katerina Vardaki, Anna Vassiliadis and Irene Athanassakis

Mate choice has been postulated to be MHC-dependent, ensuring the maintenance of polymorphism for species survival. At the molecular level, MHC polymorphism is represented by class-I (MHCI), class-II (MHCII) antigens and their T cell receptors (TCRs). In order to evaluate the presence such immune molecules during male/female interaction, vaginal fluid, vaginal cells, urine, sperm, seminal fluid, cumulus cells, tubal fluid and epithelium were isolated from BALB/c mice and examined for the presence of membrane or soluble MHCI, MHCII, TCRαβ and TCRγδ, using immunofluorescence and ELISA techniques, respectively. These molecules were expressed on sperm and seminal fluid in a sperm quality-dependent manner and in vagina, fallopian tube, cumulus cells and urine in an estrus cycle-dependent manner. Vaginal cells showed increased expression of all molecules tested during estrus, while vaginal fluid showed an increase of TCRγδ and decrease of MHCI and MHCII levels, during estrus. Urine showed only increased concentrations of TCRαβ during estrus. Cumulus cells expressed MHCI, MHCII, TRCγδ but not TCRαβ, while sperm mainly expressed TCRαβ and TRCγδ. All molecules were detected in tubal fluids mostly during estrus, while they were almost undetectable during pregnancy. The vaginal environment was shown to affect sperm motility according to the estrus-cycle, whereas sperm motility was affected by antibodies against these molecules. In conclusion, the presence of complementary immune molecules in the male/female interactive environment, except for revealing novel markers for unexplained infertility, provides for the first time evidence for immune-mediated recognition of the two counterparts, enlightening thus a molecular basis for mate choice.

Open access

Neil A Youngson, G Mezbah Uddin, Abhirup Das, Carl Martinez, Haley S Connaughton, Sara Whiting, Josephine Yu, David A Sinclair, R John Aitken and Margaret J Morris

Male fertility and sperm quality are negatively impacted by obesity. Furthermore, recent evidence has shown that male offspring from obese rat mothers also have reduced sperm quality and fertility. Here, we extend work in this area by comparing the effects of both maternal obesity and offspring post-weaning diet-induced obesity, as well as their combination, on sperm quality in mice. We additionally tested whether administration of the NAD+-booster nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) can ameliorate the negative effects of obesity and maternal obesity on sperm quality. We previously showed that intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection of NMN can reduce the metabolic deficits induced by maternal obesity or post-weaning dietary obesity in mice. In this study, female mice were fed a high-fat diet (HFD) for 6 weeks until they were 18% heavier than a control diet group. Thereafter, HFD and control female mice were mated with control diet males, and male offspring were weaned into groups receiving control or HFD. At 30 weeks of age, mice received 500 mg/kg body weight NMN or vehicle PBS i.p. for 21 days. As expected, adiposity was increased by both maternal and post-weaning HFD but reduced by NMN supplementation. Post-weaning HFD reduced sperm count and motility, while maternal HFD increased offspring sperm DNA fragmentation and levels of aberrant sperm chromatin. There was no evidence that the combination of post-weaning and maternal HFD exacerbated the impacts in sperm quality suggesting that they impact spermatogenesis through different mechanisms. Surprisingly NMN reduced sperm count, vitality and increased sperm oxidative DNA damage, which was associated with increased NAD+ in testes. A subsequent experiment using oral NMN at 400 mg/kg body weight was not associated with reduced sperm viability, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction or increased NAD+ in testes, suggesting that the negative impacts on sperm could be dependent on dose or mode of administration.

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André F A Figueiredo, Natália Teixeira Wnuk, Amanda O Tavares, José Rafael Miranda, Rex A Hess, Luiz Renato de França and Guilherme M J Costa

The number of Sertoli cells (SCs) ultimately determines the upper limit of sperm production in the testis. Previous studies have shown that thyroid hormones (TH) receptors are abundantly expressed in developing SCs; therefore, it was highly significant to discover that transient neonatal hypothyroidism induced by the goitrogen 6-n-propyl-2-thiouracil (PTU) can extend SCs proliferation beyond the first 2 weeks postnatal and increase testis weight and sperm production. Further studies concluded that treatment must begin before day 8 post birth in rats. Recent studies, however, showed that SCs present in the transition region at the rete testis exhibit a more immature phenotype and have prolonged mitotic activity, which led to the hypothesis that SCs in this region will retain the capacity to respond to PTU treatment over a longer period of time. In the present study, male Wistar rats were treated with PTU from days 21 to 40 and were evaluated at 40 and 160 days of age. Similar to neonatal rat SCs, it was demonstrated that prepubertal SCs in the transition region have a high mitotic activity and are highly sensitive to TH levels. This delayed, transient hypothyroidism resulted in significantly increased testis weight, SCs number and daily sperm production. The results demonstrate for the first time that Sertoli cells showing plasticity in the transition region can be stimulated to increase proliferation and contribute to a late stage surge in testis weight and sperm output.