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Yu-Qian Wang, Aalia Batool, Su-Ren Chen and Yi-Xun Liu

Reduced contractility of the testicular peritubular myoid (PTM) cells may contribute to human male subfertility or infertility. Transcription factor GATA4 in Sertoli and Leydig cells is essential for murine spermatogenesis, but limited attention has been paid to the potential role of GATA4 in PTM cells. In primary cultures of mouse PTM cells, siRNA knockdown of GATA4 increased the contractile activity, while GATA4 overexpression significantly attenuated the contractility of PTM cells using a collagen gel contraction assay. Using RNA sequencing and qRT-PCR, we identified a set of genes that exhibited opposite expressional alternation between Gata4 siRNA vs nontargeting siRNA-treated PTM cells and Gata4 adenovirus vs control adenovirus-treated PTM cells. Notably, ion channels, smooth muscle function, cytokines and chemokines, cytoskeleton, adhesion and extracellular matrix were the top four enriched pathways, as revealed by cluster analysis. Natriuretic peptide type B (NPPB) content was significantly upregulated by GATA4 overexpression in both PTM cells and their culture supernatant. More importantly, the addition of 100 μM NPPB could abolish the promoting effect of Gata4 silencing on PTM cell contraction. Taken together, we suggest that the inhibitory action of GATA4 on PTM cell contraction is mediated at least partly by regulating genes belonging to smooth muscle contraction pathway (e.g. Nppb).

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Amy L Winship, Sarah E Gazzard, Luise A Cullen-McEwen, John F Bertram and Karla J Hutt

The ovarian reserve of primordial follicle oocytes is formed during in utero development and represents the entire supply of oocytes available to sustain female fertility. Maternal undernutrition during pregnancy and lactation diminishes offspring ovarian reserve in rats. In mice, maternal oocyte maturation is also susceptible to undernutrition, causing impaired offspring cardiovascular function. We aimed to determine whether programming of the ovarian reserve is impacted in offspring when maternal undernutrition extends from preconception oocyte development through to weaning. C57BL6/J female mice were fed normal protein (20%) or low-protein (8%) diet during preconception, pregnancy and lactation periods. Maternal ovaries were harvested at weaning and offspring ovaries were collected at postnatal day (PN)21 and 24 weeks of age. Total follicle estimates were obtained by histologically sampling one ovary per animal (n = 5/group). There was no impact of diet on maternal follicle numbers. However, in offspring, maternal protein restriction significantly depleted primordial follicles by 37% at PN21 and 51% at 24 weeks (P < 0.05). There were no effects of diet on other follicle classes. Histological analysis showed no differences in the proportion of proliferative follicles (pH3 positive), but increased atresia (cleaved caspase-3-positive, or TUNEL-positive) was detected in ovaries of protein-restricted offspring at both ages (P < 0.05). Our data show that maternal diet during the preconception period, in utero development and early life has significant impacts on follicle endowment and markers of follicle health later in life. This highlights the need for further investigation into the importance of maternal preconception diet for offspring reproductive development and health.

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Ziya Kalem, Müberra Namlı Kalem, Elvan Anadol, Batuhan Bakırarar, Canan Yılmaz, Çiğdem Elmas, Perihan Yalçınkaya, Halil Ruso and Timur Gürgan

This study aimed to investigate the effects of maternal unhealthy nutrition on the reproductive functions of female and male adult offspring. This was an animal study carried out with 24 virgin female Wistar rats (dams) and their male and female offspring. Rats were divided standard diet (SD) or cafeteria diet (CD) groups, after 10 weeks of feeding, all rats were paired with a Wistar stud male, and each group was again divided into CD and SD groups during the pregnancy and lactation periods. After birth, six female and six male pups in each group, were subjected to study. Following 3 weeks of lactation, the pups were fed with SD for 8 weeks and killed when they were considered adult at 11th week for analysis. Primordial and antral follicle counts, serum anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) and phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) in the oocyte cytoplasm were examined to evaluate ovarian function, and E-cadherin and integrin-β1 levels were examined in endometrial tissues for the evaluation of endometrial receptivity in female offspring. Sperm analysis was performed in male offspring. In groups in which the dams were fed CD, primordial follicular pool, PTEN, and endometrial receptivity were reduced. In contrast, AMH and the number of antral follicles were not changed. In male offspring, the testicles were smaller, testosterone production decreased, AMH increased and the number and function of sperm were not changed. Sperm analysis results were not changed. All negative effects on reproductive functions were more apparent in groups fed with the CD during the pregestational period.

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Warakorn Cheewasopit, Mhairi Laird, Claire Glister and Phil G Knight

Myostatin plays a negative role in skeletal muscle growth regulation but its potential role in the ovary has received little attention. Here, we first examined relative expression of myostatin (MSTN), myostatin receptors (ACVR1B, ACVR2B and TGFBR1) and binding protein, follistatin (FST), in granulosa (GC) and theca (TC) cells of developing bovine follicles. Secondly, using primary GC and TC cultures, we investigated whether myostatin affects steroidogenesis and cell number. Thirdly, effects of gonadotropins and other intrafollicular factors on MSTN expression in GC and TC were examined. MSTN, ACVR1B, TGFBR1, ACVR2B and FST mRNA was detected in both GC and TC at all follicle stages. Immunohistochemistry confirmed follicular expression of myostatin protein. Interestingly, MSTN mRNA expression was lowest in GC of large oestrogen-active follicles whilst GC FST expression was maximal at this stage. In GC, myostatin increased basal CYP19A1 expression and oestradiol secretion whilst decreasing basal and FSH-induced HSD3B1 expression and progesterone secretion and increasing cell number. Myostatin also reduced IGF-induced progesterone secretion. FSH and dihydrotestosterone had no effect on granulosal MSTN expression whilst insulin-like growth factor and tumour necrosis factor-alpha suppressed MSTN level. In TC, myostatin suppressed basal and LH-stimulated androgen secretion in a follistatin-reversible manner and increased cell number, without affecting progesterone secretion. LH reduced thecal MSTN expression whilst BMP6 had no effect. Collectively, results indicate that, in addition to being potentially responsive to muscle-derived myostatin from the circulation, myostatin may have an intraovarian autocrine/paracrine role to modulate thecal and granulosal steroidogenesis and cell proliferation/survival.

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John J Peluso, Xiufang Liu, Tracy Uliasz, Cindy A Pru, Nicole C Kelp and James K Pru

To determine whether conditional depletion of progesterone receptor membrane component (PGRMC) 1 and PGRMC2 affected ovarian follicle development, follicle distribution was assessed in ovaries of young (≈3-month-old) and middle-aged (≈6-month-old) control (Pgrmc1/2 fl/fl) and double conditional PGRMC1/2-knockout (Pgrmc1/2 d/d) mice. This study revealed that the distribution of primary, preantral and antral follicles was not altered in Pgrmc1/2 d/d mice, regardless of the age. Although the number of primordial follicles was similar at ≈3 months of age, their numbers were reduced by ≈80% in 6-month-old Pgrmc1/2 d/d mice compared to age-matched Pgrmc1/2 fl/fl mice. The Pgrmc1/2 d/d mice were generated using Pgr-cre mice, so ablation of Pgrmc1 and Pgrmc2 in the ovary was restricted to peri-ovulatory follicles and subsequent corpora lutea (CL). In addition, the vascularization of CL was attenuated in Pgrmc1/2 d/d mice, although mRNA levels of vascular endothelial growth factor A (Vegfa) were elevated. Moreover, depletion of Pgrmc1 and Pgrmc2 altered the gene expression profile in the non-luteal component of the ovary such that Vegfa expression, a stimulator of primordial follicle growth, was elevated; Kit Ligand expression, another stimulator of primordial follicle growth, was suppressed and anti-Mullerian hormone, an inhibitor of primordial follicle growth, was enhanced compared to Pgrmc1/2 fl/fl mice. These data reveal that luteal cell depletion of Pgrmc1 and 2 alters the expression of growth factors within the non-luteal component of the ovary, which could account for the premature demise of the adult population of primordial follicles. In summary, the survival of adult primordial follicles is dependent in part on progesterone receptor membrane component 1 and 2.

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Susana Beatriz Rulli, María Julia Cambiasso and Laura Daniela Ratner

In mammals, the reproductive function is controlled by the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis. During development, mechanisms mediated by gonadal steroids exert an imprinting at the hypothalamic–pituitary level, by establishing sexual differences in the circuits that control male and female reproduction. In rodents, the testicular production of androgens increases drastically during the fetal/neonatal stage. This process is essential for the masculinization of the reproductive tract, genitals and brain. The conversion of androgens to estrogens in the brain is crucial for the male sexual differentiation and behavior. Conversely, feminization of the brain occurs in the absence of high levels of gonadal steroids during the perinatal period in females. Potential genetic contribution to the differentiation of brain cells through direct effects of genes located on sex chromosomes is also relevant. In this review, we will focus on the phenotypic alterations that occur on the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis of transgenic mice with persistently elevated expression of the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG). Excess of endogenously synthesized gonadal steroids due to a constant hCG stimulation is able to disrupt the developmental programming of the hypothalamic–pituitary axis in both transgenic males and females. Locally produced estrogens by the hypothalamic aromatase might play a key role in the phenotype of these mice. The ‘four core genotypes’ mouse model demonstrated a potential influence of sex chromosome genes in brain masculinization before critical periods of sex differentiation. Thus, hormonal and genetic factors interact to regulate the local production of the neurosteroids necessary for the programming of the male and female reproductive function.

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A M English, D A Kenny, C J Byrne, H Sauerwein, C Urh, M A Crowe, C Staub, S M Waters and S Fair

The objective of this study was to examine the effect of nutrition during the first 18 weeks of life on the physiological and transcriptional functionality of the hypothalamic (arcuate nucleus region), anterior pituitary and testes in Holstein–Friesian bull calves. Holstein–Friesian bull calves with a mean (±s.d.) age and bodyweight of 19 (±8.2) days and 47.5 (±5.3) kg, respectively, were assigned to either a HIGH (n = 10) or LOW (n = 10) plane of nutrition, to achieve an overall target growth rate of 1.2 or 0.5 kg/day, respectively. At 126 ± 1.1 days of age, all calves were euthanised. Animal performance (weekly) and systemic concentrations of metabolic (monthly) and reproductive hormones (fortnightly) were assessed. Testicular histology, targeted gene and protein expression of the arcuate nucleus region, anterior pituitary and testes were also assessed using qPCR and immunohistochemistry, respectively. The expression of candidate genes in testicular tissue from post pubertal 19-month-old Holstein–Friesian bulls (n = 10) was compared to that of the 18-week-old calves. Metabolite and metabolic hormone profiles generally reflected the improved metabolic status of the calves on the HIGH (P < 0.001). Calves offered a HIGH plane of nutrition were heavier at slaughter (P < 0.001), had larger testes (P < 0.001), larger seminiferous tubule diameter (P < 0.001), more mature spermatogenic cells (P < 0.001) and more Sertoli cells (P < 0.05) in accordance with both morphological and transcriptional data. Overall, testicular gene expression profiles suggested a more mature stage of development in HIGH compared with LOW and were more closely aligned to that of mature bulls. Ghrelin receptor was the only differentially expressed gene between LOW and HIGH calves in either the anterior pituitary (P < 0.05) or arcuate nucleus region of the hypothalamus (P < 0.10) and was upregulated in LOW for both tissues. This study indicates that an enhanced plane of nutrition during early calfhood favourably alters the biochemical regulation of the hypothalamus–anterior pituitary–testicular axis, advancing testicular development and hastening spermatogenesis.

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P J Torres, E M Luque, M F Ponzio, V Cantarelli, M Diez, S Figueroa, L M Vincenti, V P Carlini and A C Martini

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the intragestational role of ghrelin in offspring development and reproductive programming in a mouse model of ghrelin imbalance during pregnancy. Female mice were injected with ghrelin (supraphysiological levels: 4 nmol/animal/day), antagonist (endogenous ghrelin inhibition with (D-Lys3)GHRP-6, 6 nmol/animal/day) or vehicle (control = normal ghrelin levels) throughout the pregnancy. Parameters evaluated in litters were growth, physical, neurobiological and sexual development and, at adulthood, reproductive function. Litter size and initial weight did not vary between treatments. Male pups from dams treated with ghrelin showed higher body weight increase until adulthood (31.7 ± 0.8 vs control = 29.7 ± 0.7, n = 11–14 litters/treatment; P < 0.05). Postnatal physical and neurobiological development was not modified by treatments. The antagonist accelerated male puberty onset, evidenced as earlier testis descent and increased relative testicular weight (antagonist = 0.5 ± 0.0% vs ghrelin = 0.4 ± 0.0% and control = 0.4 ± 0.0%, n = 5–10 litters/treatment; P < 0.05). At adulthood, these males exhibited lower relative testicular weight and reduced sperm motility (63.9 ± 3.6% vs control = 70.9 ± 3.3 and ghrelin = 75.6 ± 3.0, n = 13–15 animals; P < 0.05), without changes in plasma testosterone or fertility. Female pups intragestationally exposed to the antagonist showed earlier vaginal opening (statistically significant only at Day 25) and higher ovarian volume (antagonist = 1085.7 ± 64.0 mm3 vs ghrelin = 663.3 ± 102.8 mm3 and control = 512.3 ± 116.4 mm3; n = 4–6 animals/treatment; P < 0.05), indicating earlier sexual maturation. At adulthood, these females and those exposed to ghrelin showed a tendency to higher percentages of embryo loss and/or foetal atrophy. In conclusion, ghrelin participates in reproductive foetal programming: alterations in ghrelin activity during pregnancy modified body weight increase and anticipated puberty onset, exerting (or tending to) negative effects on adult reproductive function.

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Stewart J Russell and Jonathan LaMarre

Hiding in plain sight within the genome of virtually every eukaryotic organism are large numbers of sequences known as transposable elements (TEs). These sequences often comprise 50% or more of the DNA in many mammals and are transcriptionally constrained by DNA methylation and repressive chromatin marks. Individual TEs, when relieved of these epigenetic constraints, can readily move from one genomic location to another, either directly or through RNA intermediates. Demethylation and removal of repressive histone marks during epigenetic reprogramming stages of gametogenesis and embryogenesis render the genome particularly susceptible to increased TE mobilization, which has significant implications for the fidelity of genome replication and subsequent viability of the progeny. Importantly, however, TEs have functionally integrated themselves into developmental events to the extent that complete suppression precludes normal gamete and embryo development. Consequently, multiple mechanisms have evolved to limit the extent of TE expression and mobilization during reprogramming without completely suppressing it. One of the most important TE repression mechanisms is the PIWI/piRNA pathway, in which 25–32 nucleotide RNA molecules known as piRNAs associate with Argonaute proteins from the PIWI clade to form piRISC complexes. These complexes target and silence TEs post-transcriptionally and through the induction of epigenetic changes at the loci from which they are expressed. This review will briefly discuss the intricate molecular détente between TE expression and its suppression by the PIWI pathway, with particular emphasis on mammalian species including human, bovine and murine.

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R Malivindi, M Santoro, D De Rose, S Panza, S Gervasi, V Rago and S Aquila

The farnesoid X receptor alpha (FXR) is a bile acid sensor activated by binding to endogenous bile acids including chenodeoxycholic acid (CDCA). Although, FXR is expressed in male reproductive tissue, the relevance of the receptor on reproduction is scarcely known. Here, we demonstrated the FXR presence and its action on several human sperm features. Western blot and immunofluorescence assays evidenced the FXR expression in human spermatozoa and the localisation in the middle piece. CDCA increasing concentrations and GW4064, synthetic ligand of FXR, were used to study the FXR influence on sperm motility, survival, capacitation, acrosome reaction and on glucose as well as lipid metabolism. Interestingly, our data showed that increasing concentrations of CDCA negatively affected sperm parameters, while the receptor blockage by (Z)-Guggulsterone and by the anti-FXR Ab reversed the effects. Intriguingly, elevated CDCA levels increased triglyceride content, while lipase and G6PDH activities were reduced with respect to untreated samples, thus impeding the metabolic reprogramming typical of the capacitated sperm. In conclusion, in this study, we demonstrated for the first time a novel target for FXR and that the activated receptor alters the acquisition of sperm fertilising ability. We showed that sperm itself express the FXR and it is responsive to specific ligands of the receptor; therefore, bile acids influence this cell both in male and in female genital tracts. It might be hypothesized that bile acid levels could be involved in infertility with idiopathic origin as these compounds are not systematically measured in men undergoing medically assisted procreation.