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Su Liu, Hongxia Wei, Yuye Li, Lianghui Diao, Ruochun Lian, Xu Zhang and Yong Zeng

During pregnancy, the maternal immune system must tolerate the persistence of semi-allogeneic fetus in the maternal tissue. Inadequate recognition of fetal antigens may lead to pregnancy complications, such as recurrent miscarriage (RM) and recurrent implantation failure (RIF). Dendritic cells (DCs) are key regulators of protective immune responses and the development and maintenance of tolerance. Regarding that DCs are important in the establishment of immune tolerance in human pregnancy, it would be important to study the microenvironment in which DCs reside or are activated may affect their functions toward tolerance rather than active immune response. IL-10 plays a critical role in the maintenance of normal pregnancy, and the increased production of IL-10 is associated with successful pregnancy. In this study, we provide an in-depth comparison of the phenotype and cytokine production by DC-10 and other DC subsets, such as iDC and mDC. CD14+ monocyte-derived DCs were differentiated in the presence of IL-10 (DC-10) in vitro from ten normal fertile controls, six RM women and seven RIF women, and characterized for relevant markers. DC-10 was characterized by relatively low expression of costimulatory molecule CD86, as well as MHC class II molecule HLA-DR, high expression of tolerance molecules HLA-G, ILT2, ILT4 and immunosuppressive cytokine IL-10, but produced little or no proinflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-12p70. Our study provides a better understanding of the phenotypical properties of DC-10, which may participate in the complex orchestration that leads to maternal immune tolerance and homeostatic environment in human pregnancy.

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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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Yu-Yin Liu, Yu-Kai Liu, Wen-Ting Hu, Ling-Li Tang, Yan-Ran Sheng, Chun-Yan Wei, Ming-Qing Li and Xiao-Yong Zhu

Endometriosis (EMS) is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by the presence of extrauterine endometrial tissues. It has been previously reported that the refluxed blood containing viable endometrial tissues and the defective elimination of peritoneal macrophages in the pelvic cavity may involve in EMS pathogenesis. However, the mechanism by which macrophages exhibit attenuated phagocytic capability in EMS remains undetermined. Herein, we found that heme, the byproduct of lysed erythrocytes, accumulated abnormally in the peritoneal fluid (PF) of patients with EMS (14.22 μmol/L, 95% confidence interval (CI): 12.54–16.71), compared with the EMS-free group (9.517 μmol/L, 95% CI: 8.891–10.1053). This abnormal accumulation was not associated with the color of PF, phase of the menstrual cycle or severity of the disease. The reduced phagocytic ability of peritoneal macrophages (pMφs) was observed in the EMS group. Consistently, a high-concentration (30 μmol/L) heme treatment impaired EMS-pMφs phagocytosis more than a low-concentration (10 μmol/L) heme treatment. A similar phenomenon was observed in the EMS-free control pMφs (Ctrl-pMφs) and the CD14+ peripheral monocytes (CD14+ Mos). These results indicated that a high heme concentration exhibits a negative effect on macrophage phagocytosis, which supplements the mechanism of impaired scavenger function of pMφs in EMS.

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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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Emmalee Ford, Emma L Beckett, Shaun Roman, Eileen A McLaughlin and Jessie Sutherland

In women, the non-growing population of follicles that comprise the ovarian reserve is determined at birth and serves as the reservoir for future fertility. This reserve of dormant, primordial follicles and the mechanisms controlling their selective activation which constitute the committing step into folliculogenesis are essential for determining fertility outcomes in women. Much of the available data on the mechanisms responsible for primordial follicle activation focuses on a selection of key molecular pathways, studied primarily in animal models, with findings often not synonymous in humans. The excessive induction of primordial follicle activation may cause the development of premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), a condition characterised by menopause before age 40. POI affects 1-2% of all women and is accompanied by additional health risks. Therefore, it is critical to further our understanding of primordial follicle activation in order to diagnose, treat, and prevent premature infertility. Research in primordial follicle activation has focussed on connecting new molecules to already established key signalling pathways, such as phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase (PI3K) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). Additionally, other aspects of the ovarian environment, such as the function of the extracellular matrix, in contributing to primordial follicle activation have gained traction. Clinical applications are examining replication of this extracellular environment through the construction of biological matrices mimicking the three-dimensional ovary, to support follicular growth through to ovulation. This review outlines the importance of the events leading to the establishment of the ovarian reserve and highlights the fundamental factors known to influence primordial follicle activation in humans presenting new horizons for female infertility treatment.

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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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Alessandra Santillo, Massimo Venditti, Sergio Minucci, Gabriella Chieffi Baccari, Sara Falvo, Luigi Rosati and Maria Maddalena Di Fiore

D-Aspartate (D-Asp) is an endogenous amino acid that plays a central role in the development of the central nervous system (CNS) and functioning of the neuroendocrine system. In line with its functions, it is abundantly present in the CNS and reproductive systems of vertebrates and invertebrates. It has been implicated in the biosynthesis and/or secretion of hormones and factors that are involved in various reproductive functions, such as GnRH from the hypothalamus and testosterone from the testis. We conducted an in vivo study consisting of acute (intraperitoneal [i.p.] injection of 2 µmol/g body weight) and chronic (15 days drinking solution) administration of D-Asp to adult rats to understand the signaling pathways elicited by D-Asp in the rat testis. We found that D-Asp upregulated the expression of propyl endopeptidase (PREP), a serine protease having a pivotal role in the regulation of mammalian spermatogenesis and spermiogenesis. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed its overexpression in Leydig cells, Sertoli cells, and spermatogonia. Moreover, PREP was found to co-localize with GluA2/3, an AMPA receptor subunit, whose protein expression also increased after D-Asp treatments. Finally, we found a significant increase in ERK and Akt activities in the testis of rats treated with D-Asp. Since PREP is known to be involved in regulating GnRH levels and in germ cell differentiation, we hypothesize D-Asp to play a pivotal role in regulating hormone homeostasis and spermatogenesis through activation of PREP, AMPAR, ERK, and Akt.