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Shuai Lin, Yu-Yuan Zhu, Wei Hu, Yan Yang, Jia-Mei Luo, Shi-Jun Hu and Zeng-Ming Yang

Decidualization is required for the successful establishment of pregnancy in rodents and primates. Fatty acid desaturase 3 (Fads3) belongs to the fatty acid desaturase family, which is a crucial enzyme for highly unsaturated fatty acid biosynthesis. However, the expression, regulation and function of Fads3 during early pregnancy in mice are still unknown. In this study, we examined Fads3 expression, regulation and function during mouse decidualization. The expression of Fads3 is detected in the subluminal stromal cells at implantation site on day 5 of pregnancy, but not at inter-implantation site and in day 5 pseudopregnant uteri. Compared to delayed implantation, Fads3 is strongly expressed after delayed implantation is activated by estrogen treatment. From days 6 to 8, Fads3 mRNA signals are significantly detected in the decidua. In ovariectomized mice, estrogen significantly stimulates Fads3 expression. However, estrogen has no effect on Fads3 expression in ovariectomized ERα-deficient mice, suggesting that estrogen regulation on Fads3 expression is ERα dependent. When ovariectomized mice were treated with progesterone, Fads3 expression is significantly increased by progesterone. Progesterone stimulation on Fads3 expression is also detected in cultured stromal cells, which is abrogated by RU486 treatment. These data indicate that progesterone upregulation on Fads3 expression is progesterone receptor-dependent. Fads3 knockdown by siRNA reduces in vitro decidualization of mouse stromal cells. Taken together, Fads3 may play an important role during mouse decidualization.

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Ha Thi Nguyen, Kurt Jacobs and Claudia Spits

Human pluripotent stem cells have the capacity to self-renew indefinitely and the ability to differentiate into all cell types of a human body. These characteristics instill them with an enormous promise in regenerative medicine, where they could be used in cell, tissue and even organ-based replacement therapy. In this review, we discuss their potential clinical applications and the advantages and pitfalls for the different types of human pluripotent stem cells to transition from the bench to the bedside. We provide an overview of the current clinical trials, and the specific challenges we are still facing, including immune compatibility, suboptimal differentiation, risk of tumor formation and genome instability.

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Xuan-Tong Liu, Hui-Ting Sun, Zhong-Fang Zhang, Ru-Xia Shi, Li-Bing Liu, Jia-Jun Yu, Wen-Jie Zhou, Chun-Jie Gu, Shao-Liang Yang, Yu-Kai Liu, Hui-Li Yang, Feng-Xuan Xu and Ming-Qing Li

It has been reported that the impaired cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells and abnormal cytokines that are changed by the interaction between ectopic endometrial cells and immune cells is indispensable for the initiation and development of endometriosis (EMS). However, the mechanism of NK cells dysfunction in EMS remains largely unclear. Here, we found that NK cells in peritoneal fluid from women with EMS highly expressed indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). Furthermore, IDO+NK cells possessed lower NKp46 and NKG2D but higher IL-10 than that of IDO-NK. Co-culture with endometrial stromal cells (nESCs) from healthy control or ectopic ESCs (eESCs) from women with EMS led to a significant increase in the IDO level in NK cells from peripheral blood, particularly eESCs, and an anti-TGF-β neutralizing antibody suppressed these effects in vitro. NK cells co-cultured with ESC more preferentially inhibited the viability of nESCs than eESCs did, and pretreating with 1-methyl-tryptophan (1-MT), an IDO inhibitor, reversed the inhibitory effect of NK cells on eESC viability. These data suggest that ESCs induce IDO+NK cells differentiation partly by TGF-β and that IDO further restricts the cytotoxicity of NK cells in response to eESCs, which provides a potential therapeutic strategy for EMS patients, particularly those with a high number of impaired cytotoxic IDO+NK cells.

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Aykut Gram, Miguel Tavares Pereira, Alois Boos, Anna T Grazul-Bilska and Mariusz P Kowalewski


Rapid establishment of a vascular network is essential for normal functionality of the corpus luteum (CL). The early luteal phase is associated with increased expression of the VEGF system in canine CL. Acting in synchrony with angiopoietins (ANGPTs), VEGF system plays major roles in stabilization of blood vessels. However, the expression of the ANGPT system has not yet been investigated in the dog. Therefore, here, we investigated the luteal expression of ANGPT1, -2, and of their receptors TIE1 and -2, in pregnant dogs at selected time points during pregnancy and at normal and antigestagen-induced luteolysis. Additionally, luteal cells from early CL were incubated with PGE2 and its effects on the ANGPT system were assessed. Whereas the luteal ANGPT1 was stable until mid-gestation, TIE1 was elevated post-implantation, their expression decreased toward prepartum luteolysis. The ANGPT2- and TIE2-mRNA did not vary during pregnancy. The ANGPT2/ANGPT1 ratio was elevated during prepartum luteolysis. PGE2 increased ANGPT2, but suppressed ANGPT1 levels. None of the ANGPT-system members was affected by antigestagen treatment in mid-pregnancy. Localization of ANGPT1 was predominantly found in the tunica intima and media of vessels and ANGPT2 stained strongly in luteal cells. Both ANGPTs were localized in macrophages. TIE1 stained in the vascular tunica media, in luteal cells and macrophages, whereas TIE2 was colocalized with ANGPT1 in vascular components. In conclusion, high expression of ANGPT1 during the increased presence of VEGFA in early canine CL implies its contribution to vascular network development. The upregulation of the ANGPT2/ANGPT1 ratio during prepartum luteolysis indicates involvement of the ANGPT system in PGF2α-mediated vascular destabilization.

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Lihua Yao, Mingyang Li, Jingwen Hu, Wangsheng Wang and Minzhi Gao

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a major cause of infertility in women of reproductive age. However, its exact etiology remains unknown. In this study, we sequenced miRNAs in human follicular fluid and identified 16 downregulated and 3 upregulated miRNAs in PCOS group compared with non-PCOS group. Among the differential expressed miRNAs, miR-335-5p was verified lower abundance in PCOS than non-PCOS group using quantitative real-time PCR. Besides, miR-335-5p negatively correlated with antral follicle count, anti-Müllerian hormone and total testosterone. Bioinformatics analysis identified serum/glucocorticoid-regulated kinase family member 3 (SGK3) as a potential target gene of miR-335-5p. SGK3 is involved in protein kinase B-mammalian target of rapamycin kinase (AKT-mTOR) signaling pathway and cell proliferation. Western blotting and cell counting kit-8 assays demonstrated that miR-335-5p mimic reduced, while miR-335-5p inhibitor increased, SGK3 abundance, AKT-mTOR pathway and cell proliferation in human granulosa-like tumor KGN cells. Dual-luciferase reporter assays showed that miR-335-5p binds to the 3′ untranslated region of SGK3 mRNA. Furthermore, miR-335-5p was decreased and SGK3 was elevated in human granulosa cells obtained from PCOS patients as compared with non-PCOS controls. These findings suggested that miR-335-5p is involved in granulosa cells proliferation by reducing SGK3 expression, which might provide a molecular target to improve dysfunctional granulosa cells in patients with PCOS.

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Peter T Ruane, Rebekka Koeck, Stéphane C Berneau, Susan J Kimber, Melissa Westwood, Daniel R Brison and John D Aplin

In vitro culture during assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) exposes pre-implantation embryos to environmental stressors, such as non-physiological nutritional, oxidative and osmotic conditions. The effects on subsequent implantation are not well understood but could contribute to poor ART efficiency and outcomes. We have used exposure to hyperosmolarity to investigate the effects of stress on the ability of embryos to interact with endometrial cells in an in vitro model. Culturing mouse blastocysts for 2 h in medium with osmolarity raised by 400 mosmol induced blastocoel collapse and re-expansion, but did not affect subsequent attachment to, or invasion of, the endometrial epithelial Ishikawa cell line. Inhibition of stress-responsive c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activity with SP600125 did not affect the intercellular interactions between these embryos and the epithelial cells. Four successive cycles of hyperosmotic stress at E5.5 had no effect on attachment, but promoted embryonic breaching of the epithelial cell layer by trophoblast giant cells in a JNK-dependent manner. These findings suggest that acute stress at the blastocyst stage may promote trophoblast breaching of the endometrial epithelium at implantation and implicates stress signalling through JNK in the process of trophectoderm differentiation into the invasive trophoblast necessary for the establishment of pregnancy. The data may lead to increased understanding of factors governing ART success rates and safety.

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Piotr Kaczynski, Monika Baryla, Ewelina Goryszewska, Stefan Bauersachs and Agnieszka Waclawik

Successful establishment and development of pregnancy requires proper communication between developing conceptuses and the maternal reproductive tract. Prostaglandins are key players involved in the regulation of reproductive processes in mammals including pigs. Due to its luteolytic action, prostaglandin F2-alpha (PGF2α) is mainly considered as an undesirable factor during early pregnancy. However, its content in the uterine lumen is elevated in pigs and other mammals. Recently, we reported an important role of PGF2α in the endometrium during early pregnancy in the pig. Thus, the aim of the present study was to determine whether PGF2α can act on porcine trophoblast and if so, to elucidate what effect it could exert. We detected increased expression of PGF2α receptor during the implantation period (from day 14 until day 19 of pregnancy). Global gene expression profiling using microarrays and quantitative PCR studies revealed that PGF2α acting on porcine trophoblast cells in vitro alters expression of genes potentially involved in processes related to implantation, such as cell proliferation, focal adhesion, extracellular matrix binding, cell migration, cytoskeleton organization, immune interactions, ion homeostasis and lipid metabolism. Using primary porcine trophoblast cells, we demonstrated that PGF2α stimulated trophoblast cell proliferation and adhesion to extracellular matrix protein. This was likely mediated by mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK1/3) and focal adhesion kinase (FAK) since we observed increased phosphorylation of MAPK1/3 and FAK in trophoblast cells treated with PGF2α. To conclude, the present report indicates a novel role for PGF2α in the porcine conceptus as a paracrine and autocrine factor supporting pregnancy establishment.

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Maria M Szwarc, Lan Hai, William E Gibbons, Lisa D White, Qianxing Mo, Ramakrishna Kommagani, Rainer B Lanz, Francesco J DeMayo, Bert W O’Malley and John P Lydon

Establishment of a successful pregnancy requires not only implantation of a healthy embryo into a receptive uterus but also progesterone receptor (PGR)-dependent transformation of endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) into specialized decidual cells. Decidual cells support the developing embryo and are critical for placentation. We have previously shown that a known transcriptional coregulator of the PGR, steroid receptor coactivator-2 (SRC-2), is a critical driver of endometrial decidualization in both human and mouse endometrium. However, the full spectrum of genes transcriptionally controlled by SRC-2 in decidualizing ESCs has not been identified. Therefore, using an RNA- and chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing approach, we have identified the transcriptome of decidualizing human ESCs (hESCs) that requires SRC-2. We revealed that the majority of hESC genes regulated by SRC-2 are associated with decidualization. Over 50% of SRC-2-regulated genes are also controlled by the PGR. While ontology analysis showed that SRC-2-dependent genes are functionally linked to signaling processes known to underpin hESC decidualization, cell membrane processes were significantly enriched in this analysis. Follow-up studies showed that retinoid signaling is dependent on SRC-2 during hESC decidualization. Specifically, SRC-2 is required for full induction of the retinol transporter, stimulated by retinoic acid 6 (STRA6), which is essential for hESC decidualization. Together our findings show that a critical subset of genes transcriptionally reprogramed by PGR during hESC decidualization requires SRC-2. Among the multiple genes, pathways and networks that are dependent on SRC-2 during hESC decidualization, first-line analysis supports a critical role for this coregulator in maintaining retinoid signaling during progesterone-driven decidualization.

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V Elfgen, A Mietens, M Mewe, T Hau and R Middendorff

During their transit through the epididymis, spermatozoa mature and acquire motility and fertilizing capacity. The smooth muscle cells (SMCs) of the epididymal duct are thought to be responsible for the adequate transport of spermatozoa. Thus, precise regulation of SMC function also represents a prerequisite for sperm maturation thereby contributing to male fertility. In this review, we would like to highlight various aspects of epididymal SMC function and discuss several angles with respect to regulation of contraction and relaxation. Different to the vas deferens, where disturbed SMC pathways resulting in male infertility could be defined, comparable information is missing in the epididymis. We therefore include some vas deferens data which could also be useful for a better understanding of epididymal SMC function. Furthermore, we would like to draw attention to drugs used in clinical practice and their potential (side) effects on contractions in the epididymis.

Open access

Jordan E Read, Victoria Cabrera-Sharp, Victoria Offord, Samantha M Mirczuk, Steve P Allen, Robert C Fowkes and Amanda M de Mestre

Equine chorionic girdle trophoblast cells play important endocrine and immune functions critical in supporting pregnancy. Very little is known about the genes and pathways that regulate chorionic girdle trophoblast development. Our aim was to identify genes and signalling pathways active in vivo in equine chorionic girdle trophoblast within a critical 7-days window. We exploited the late implantation of the equine conceptus to obtain trophoblast tissue. An Agilent equine 44K microarray was performed using RNA extracted from chorionic girdle and chorion (control) from equine pregnancy days 27, 30, 31 and 34 (n = 5), corresponding to the initiation of chorionic girdle trophoblast proliferation, differentiation and migration. Data were analysed using R packages limma and maSigPro, Ingenuity Pathway Analysis and DAVID and verified using qRT-PCR, promoter analysis, western blotting and migration assays. Microarray analysis showed gene expression (absolute log FC >2, FDR-adjusted P < 0.05) was rapidly and specifically induced in the chorionic girdle between days 27 and 34 (compared to day 27, day 30 = 116, day 31 = 317, day 34 = 781 genes). Pathway analysis identified 35 pathways modulated during chorionic girdle development (e.g. FGF, integrin, Rho GTPases, MAPK) including pathways that have limited description in mammalian trophoblast (e.g. IL-9, CD40 and CD28 signalling). Rho A and ERK/MAPK activity was confirmed as was a role for transcription factor ELF5 in regulation of the CGB promoter. The purity and accessibility of chorionic girdle trophoblast proved to be a powerful resource to identify candidate genes and pathways involved in early equine placental development.