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Katarzyna Joanna Szymańska, Nerea Ortiz-Escribano, Etienne Van den Abbeel, Ann Van Soom and Luc Leybaert

Vitrification of immature germinal vesicle-stage oocytes is a promising method in assisted reproduction but is associated with reduced developmental potential and low birth rates. Cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs) express several connexins that form hexameric hemichannels, which interact head to head to create a gap junction or exist as unopposed free hemichannels. The latter are normally closed but open under stress conditions and may exert detrimental effects. We determined whether minimizing hemichannel opening and cell death during vitrification could improve COC quality. Bovine immature COCs underwent vitrification, storage and warming, followed by dye uptake to assess hemichannel opening and TUNEL staining to detect cell death. Based on these scores, we optimized the procedure by tuning the equilibration time, temperature, cryoprotectant concentration and extracellular Ca2+ concentration and assessed its impact on maturation, cleavage and blastocyst formation after parthenogenetic activation. We found that the major stressor resides in the cooling/warming phase of the vitrification procedure and observed that hemichannel opening and cell death in cumulus cells measure different aspects of cell stress. Optimization of the hemichannel and cell death readouts demonstrated that combined minimal hemichannel opening/cell death gave the highest cleavage rates but had no effect on maturation and blastocyst formation. Neither hemichannel nor cell death optimization performed better than the non-optimized protocol, leading to the conclusion that cell stress factors other than those detected by hemichannel dye uptake or TUNEL positivity are involved.

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Yu Chen, Hongshi Yu, Andrew J Pask, Asao Fujiyama, Yutaka Suzuki, Sumio Sugano, Geoff Shaw and Marilyn B Renfree

The development of the mammalian phallus involves hormone-dependent mesenchymal–epithelial signalling mechanisms that contribute to urethral closure and regulation of phallus elongation and growth. In marsupials, most differentiation and growth of the phallus occurs post-natally, making them amenable to direct hormone treatment. Expression of IGFs, FGFs, EFNB2, MAFB, DLX5 and AP-1 mRNAs in the phallus at day 50 post-partum (pp) were altered after treatment of tammar wallaby young from day 20 to 40 pp with androgen, oestrogen or after castration at day 25 pp. However, the most interesting changes occurred in the IGF pathway genes. Androgen treatment upregulated IGF1 in female phalluses and oestrogen treatment upregulated IGF1 in male phalluses, but it was downregulated by castration. IGFBP3 was higher in female phalluses and downregulated by androgen. IGF1 expression was higher in all untreated male than in female phalluses from day 50 to 150 pp, but IGFBP3 had the reverse pattern. At day 90 pp, when urethral closure in males is progressing and male phallus growth is accelerating. IGF1 and PCNA protein were only detected in the male urorectal septum, suggesting for the first time that closure and elongation may involve IGF1 activation of cell proliferation specifically in male phalluses. These effects of sex steroids on gene expression and on the IGF1 signalling pathway in particular, suggest that the developing phallus may be especially susceptible to perturbation by exogenous hormones.

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K Herzog, L Debertolis, J P Kastelic, M Schmicke, S E Ulbrich and H Bollwein

The objective was to characterize effects of Escherichia coli LPS (given i.v.) on corpus luteum (CL) and embryonic viability in early pregnant cattle. Eight non-lactating German Holstein cows were given 0.5 µg/kg LPS on 35 ± 3 day (mean ± s.e.m.) of pregnancy, whereas seven heifers, 41 ± 6 day pregnant, were given 10 mL saline (control group). Transrectal B-mode examinations of the CL were done at −1, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 72 and 96 h relative to treatment. Blood samples were collected at −1, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 24, 48, 72 and 96 h. At 12 and 48 h, the CL was biopsied. None of the cows still in the experiment 10 day after LPS (n = 7) had embryonic loss. In LPS-treated cows, luteal area decreased (from 4.1 to 3.1 cm2; P ≤ 0.05) within 6 h and until 48 h. Luteal blood flow decreased by 39% (P ≤ 0.05) within the first 6 h after LPS, but returned to pre-treatment values by 48 h. Plasma P4 decreased by 62% (P ≤ 0.05), reached a nadir (2.7 ± 0.6 ng/mL) at 12 h after LPS and was not restored to pre-treatment (P ≤ 0.05). In luteal tissue, mRNAs for STAR and for FGF1 were lower (P ≤ 0.05) in LPS than in saline-treated cattle at 12 h, with no difference between groups at 48 h. Levels of mRNAs for CASP3 and FGF2 were not different between groups (P > 0.05) at 12 or 48 h after treatment. In conclusion, LPS transiently suppressed CL function, but did not induce embryonic mortality.

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Xiaoqing Yang, Meivita Devianti, Yuan H Yang, Yih Rue Ong, Ker Sin Tan, Shanti Gurung, Jean L Tan, Dandan Zhu, Rebecca Lim, Caroline E Gargett and James A Deane

Perivascular mesenchymal stem/stromal cells can be isolated from the human endometrium using the surface marker SUSD2 and are being investigated for use in tissue repair. Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from other tissues modulate T cell responses via mechanisms including interleukin-10, prostaglandin E2, TGF-β1 and regulatory T cells. Animal studies demonstrate that endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells can also modify immune responses to implanted mesh, but the mechanism/s they employ have not been explored. We examined the immunomodulatory properties of human endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells on lymphocyte proliferation using mouse splenocyte cultures. Endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells inhibited mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation in vitro in a dose-dependent manner. Inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation was not affected by blocking the mouse interleukin-10 receptor or inhibiting prostaglandin production. Endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells continued to restrain lymphocyte proliferation in the presence of an inhibitor of TGF-β receptors, despite a reduction in regulatory T cells. Thus, the in vitro inhibition of mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation by endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells occurs by a mechanism distinct from the interleukin-10, prostaglandin E2, TGF-β1 and regulatory T cell-mediated mechanisms employed by MSC from other tissues. eMSCs were shown to produce interleukin-17A and Dickkopf-1 which may contribute to their immunomodulatory properties. In contrast to MSC from other sources, systemic administration of endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells did not inhibit swelling in a T cell-mediated model of skin inflammation. We conclude that, while endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells can modify immune responses, their immunomodulatory repertoire may not be sufficient to restrain some T cell-mediated inflammatory events.

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Takayuki Takahashi, Akane Hagiwara and Katsueki Ogiwara

Ovulation, which is induced by the ovulatory luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, is a dynamic process that results in a discharge of one or more fertilizable oocytes from the ovarian follicle into the ovarian cavity or into the abdominal cavity. Follicle rupture is a core event of the ovulatory process and has been the subject of intensive investigation. Many studies have been performed in various vertebrate animals that focused on proteolysis during ovulation. Despite much effort, the proteases responsible for follicle rupture in ovulation have not yet been identified for mammalian species. However, studies conducted using the teleost medaka have recently provided valuable information about the follicle rupture process. Follicle rupture during medaka ovulation is accomplished by a two-step extracellular matrix (ECM) hydrolysis mechanism involving two distinct protease systems, the urokinase-type plasminogen activator-1 /plasmin and the matrix metalloproteinase system. In the 24-h spawning cycle of the fish, the former protease system is activated first, and the latter subsequently becomes active. Proteolytic activities of these systems are regulated by their intrinsic inhibitors. The endocrine regulation of the rupture was examined by investigating the expression of matrix metalloproteinase 15 (Mmp15), which is the only LH-inducible protease among those involved in the rupture process. At least two transcription factors, classical nuclear progestin receptor and CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein β, play critical roles in the expression of the protease transcript. This review also summarizes studies addressing follicle rupture during ovulation conducted using other teleost models to understand the current status of teleost ovulation studies.

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Peter Smith, Jennifer Juengel, Paul Maclean, Christy Rand and Jo-Ann L Stanton

A number of studies have demonstrated effects of gestational undernutrition on fetal ovarian development and postnatal female fertility. However, the mechanism underlying these effects remains elusive. Using a cohort of animals in which altered gestational nutrition affected indicators of postnatal fertility, this study applies RNAseq to fetal ovaries to identify affected genes and pathways that may underlie the relationship between gestational plane of nutrition and postnatal fertility. Pregnant ewes were exposed to either a maintenance diet or 0.6 of maintenance for the first 55 days of gestation followed by an ad libitum diet. Complementary DNA libraries were constructed from 5 to 6 fetal ovaries from each nutritional group at both days 55 and 75 of gestation and sequenced using Ion Proton. Of approximately 16,000 transcripts, 69 genes were differentially expressed at day 55 and 145 genes differentially expressed at day 75. At both gestational ages, genes expressed preferentially in germ cells were common among the differentially expressed genes. Enriched gene ontology terms included ion transport, nucleic acid binding, protease inhibitor activity and carrier proteins of the albumin family. Affected pathways identified by IPA analysis included LXR/RXR activation, FXR/RXR activation, pathways associated with nitric oxide production and citrullination (by NOS1), vitamin C transport and metabolism and REDOX reactions. The data offer some insights into potential mechanisms underlying the relationship between gestational plane of nutrition and postnatal fertility observed in these animals. In particular, the roles of nitric oxide and protease inhibitors in germ cell development are highlighted and warrant further study.

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Ruizhi Deng, Chengquan Han, Lu Zhao, Qing Zhang, Beifen Yan, Rui Cheng, Biao Wei, Peng Meng, Tingchao Mao, Yong Zhang and Jun Liu

Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which are abundant in mammalian genomes, can modulate the expression of nearby genes, and their expression is dynamic and stage-specific during early embryonic development in mice and humans. However, the functions and mechanisms of ERV elements in regulating embryonic development remain unclear. Here, we utilized several methods to determine the contribution of ERVs to the makeup and regulation of transcripts during embryonic genome activation (EGA). We constructed an ERV library and embryo RNA-seq library (IVF_2c and IVF_8c) of goat to serve as our research basis. The GO and KEGG analysis of nearby ERV genes revealed that some ERV elements may be associated with embryonic development. RNA-seq results were consistent with the features of EGA. To obtain the transcripts derived from the ERV sequences, we blasted the ERV sequences with embryonic transcripts and identified three lncRNAs and one mRNA that were highly expressed in IVF-8c rather than in IVF-2c (q-value <0.05). Then, we validated the expression patterns of nine ERV-related transcripts during early developmental stages and knocked down three high-expression transcripts in EGA. The knockdown of lncRNA TCONS_00460156 or mRNA HSD17B11 significantly decreased the developmental rate of IVF embryos. Our findings suggested that some transcripts from ERVs are essential for the early embryonic development of goat, and analyzing the ERV expression profile during goat EGA may help elucidate the molecular mechanisms of ERV in regulating embryonic development.

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D Ioannou, J Fortun and H G Tempest

Infertility is relatively common affecting approximately 1-in-6 couples. Although the genetic basis of infertility is increasingly being uncovered, the contribution of male infertility often remains unexplained. The leading cause of pregnancy loss and cognitive impairment in humans is chromosome aneuploidy. Sperm aneuploidy is routinely evaluated by fluorescence in situ hybridization. The majority of studies have reported similar findings, namely: (1) all men produce aneuploid sperm; (2) certain chromosomes are more prone to undergo chromosome nondisjunction; (3) infertile men typically have significantly higher levels of sperm aneuploidy compared to controls and (4) the level of aneuploidy is often correlated with the severity of the infertility. Despite this, sperm aneuploidy screening is rarely evaluated in the infertility clinic. Within recent years, there appears to be renewed interest in the clinical relevance of sperm aneuploidy. We shall examine the gender differences in meiosis between the sexes and explore why less emphasis is placed on the paternal contribution to aneuploidy. Increased sperm aneuploidy is often perceived to be modest and not clinically relevant, compared to the female contribution. However, even small increases in sperm aneuploidy may impact fertility and IVF cycle outcomes. Evidence demonstrating the clinical relevance of sperm aneuploidy will be discussed, as well as some of the challenges precluding widespread clinical implementation. Technological developments that may lead to widespread clinical implementation will be discussed. Recommendations will be suggested for specific patient groups that may benefit from sperm aneuploidy screening and whether preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy should be discussed with these patients.

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Nicolas J Fasel, Kevin McMillian, Ulrike Jakop, Laurent Méné-Saffrané, Kathrin M Engel, Michel Genoud, Karin Müller and Philippe Christe

Biochemical properties of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are fundamental to sperm movements. Amongst all adjustments operated during epididymal maturation, sperm membrane lipid composition is remodelled. Specifically, the proportion of PUFAs usually increases from the caput towards the cauda epididymidis. In mammals, PUFAs are predominantly acquired through the diet, which can consequently impact male fertility. We aimed at analysing to what extent n-6 and n-3 PUFAs are incorporated into sperm in the Seba’s short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata), and at demonstrating the effect of the sperm fatty acid composition on sperm mobility. We therefore provided food varying in fatty acid composition to males of C. perspicillata and measured the fatty acid composition and mobility traits in spermatozoa collected from the caput and cauda epididymides. We found that n-6 and n-3 PUFAs and saturated fatty acids were significantly related to sperm velocity but not to the proportion of progressive sperm (i.e. motility). Concomitant to an increase in sperm velocity, the level of fatty acid saturation increased from the caput to the cauda epididymidis, while the proportion of PUFAs remained similar along the epididymis. A reduction in n-6 PUFAs counterbalanced an increase in n-3 PUFAs. The food treatments did not affect the sperm fatty acid composition. Our results suggest that a precise endogenous control rather than dietary effects determines sperm fatty acid composition in C. perspicillata.