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Open access

Renjie Wang, Wei Pan, Lei Jin, Yuehan Li, Yudi Geng, Chun Gao, Gang Chen, Hui Wang, Ding Ma, and Shujie Liao

Artificial intelligence (AI) has experienced rapid growth over the past few years, moving from the experimental to the implementation phase in various fields, including medicine. Advances in learning algorithms and theories, the availability of large datasets and improvements in computing power have contributed to breakthroughs in current AI applications. Machine learning (ML), a subset of AI, allows computers to detect patterns from large complex datasets automatically and uses these patterns to make predictions. AI is proving to be increasingly applicable to healthcare, and multiple machine learning techniques have been used to improve the performance of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Despite various challenges, the integration of AI and reproductive medicine is bound to give an essential direction to medical development in the future. In this review, we discuss the basic aspects of AI and machine learning, and we address the applications, potential limitations and challenges of AI. We also highlight the prospects and future directions in the context of reproductive medicine.

Open access

Caroline M Allen, Federica Lopes, Rod T Mitchell, and Norah Spears

Chemotherapy treatment is a mainstay of anticancer regimens, significantly contributing to the recent increase in childhood cancer survival rates. Conventional cancer therapy targets not only malignant but also healthy cells resulting in side effects including infertility. For prepubertal boys, there are currently no fertility preservation strategies in use, although several potential methods are under investigation. Most of the current knowledge in relation to prepubertal gonadotoxicity has been deduced from adult studies; however, the prepubertal testis is relatively quiescent in comparison to the adult. This review provides an overview of research to date in humans and animals describing chemotherapy-induced prepubertal gonadotoxicity, focusing on direct gonadal damage. Testicular damage is dependent upon the agent, dosage, administration schedule and age/pubertal status at time of treatment. The chemotherapy agents investigated so far target the germ cell population activating apoptotic pathways and may also impair Sertoli cell function. Due to use of combined chemotherapy agents for patients, the impact of individual drugs is hard to define, however, use of in vivo and in vitro animal models can overcome this problem. Furthering our understanding of how chemotherapy agents target the prepubertal testis will provide clarity to patients on the gonadotoxicity of different drugs and aid in the development of cytoprotective agents.

Open access

Konstantina Nikolakopoulou and Margherita Y Turco

Infertility is a common problem in modern societies with significant socio-psychological implications for women. Therapeutic interventions are often needed which, depending on the cause, can either be medical treatment, surgical procedures or assisted reproductive technology (ART). However, the treatment of infertility is not always successful due to our limited understanding of the preparation of the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, for pregnancy. The endometrium is of central importance for successful reproduction as it is the site of placental implantation providing the interface between the mother and her baby. Due to the dynamic, structural and functional changes the endometrium undergoes throughout the menstrual cycle, it is challenging to study. A major advancement is the establishment of 3D organoid models of the human endometrium to study this dynamic tissue in health and disease. In this review, we describe the changes that the human endometrium undergoes through the different phases of the menstrual cycle in preparation for pregnancy. We discuss defects in the processes of endometrial repair, decidualization and acquisition of receptivity that are associated with infertility. Organoids could be utilized to investigate the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms occurring in non-pregnant endometrium and early pregnancy. These studies may lead to therapeutic applications that could transform the treatment of reproductive failure.

Open access

C Rollo, Y Li, X L Jin, and C O’Neill

Acetylation of histone proteins is a major determinant of chromatin structure and function. Fertilisation triggers a round of chromatin remodelling that prepares the genome for the first round of transcription from the new embryonic genome. In this study we confirm that fertilisation leads to a marked progressive increase in the level of histone 3 lysine 9 acetylation in both the paternally and maternally derived genomes. The culture of zygotes in simple defined media caused a marked increase in the global level of acetylation and this affected the male pronucleus more than the female. The culture created a marked asymmetry in staining between the two pronuclei that was not readily detected in zygotes collected directly from the reproductive tract and was ameliorated to some extent by optimized culture media. The increased acetylation caused by culture resulted in increased transcription of Hspa1b, a marker of embryonic genome activation. Pharmacological analyses showed the hyperacetylation of H3K9 and the increased expression of Hspa1b caused by culture were due to the altered net activity of a range of histone acetylases and deacetylases. The marked hyperacetylation of histone 3 lysine 9 caused by culture of zygotes may serve as an early biomarker for the effects of culture on the normal function of the embryo. The results also provide further evidence for an effect of the stresses associated with assisted reproductive technologies on the normal patterns of epigenetic reprogramming in the early embryo.

Open access

Song Li, Qi Fan, Yanqiu Xie, Haiyan Lin, Qi Qiu, Yihua Liang, and Qingxue Zhang

In vitro activation of primordial follicles is becoming more essential in assisted reproductive technologies. Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) is one of the members of the neurotrophin family which has demonstrated to have an impact on follicle development in recent years. This study aims to investigate the effect of VIP on the activation of primordial follicles in neonatal rat in an in vitro culture system and to determine the relevant molecular mechanism of their activation. Ovaries of 4-day-old rats were examined for the expression of VIP receptors and were cultured in mediums containing VIP with or without inhibitors of the ERK–mTOR signalling pathway. They were then collected for histological analysis or measurement of the molecular expression of this pathway. The receptors of VIP were found in granular cells and oocytes of primordial and early-growing follicles in neonatal ovary. The ratio of growing follicle increased in the presence VIP at different concentrations, with the highest level of increase being observed in the 10−7 mol/L VIP-treated group. The ratio of PCNA-positive granular cells was also increased, while that of the apoptotic oocytes were decreased, and protein analysis showed increased phosphorylation of ERK1/2, mTOR and RPS6 in the VIP-treated group. However, the effect of VIP on the activation of primordial follicle became insignificant with the addition of MEK inhibitor (U0126) or mTORC1 inhibitor (rapamycin). This study indicated that VIP could activate neonatal rat primordial follicle through the ERK-mTOR signalling pathway, suggesting a strategy for in vitro primordial follicle recruitment.

Open access

Katerina Menelaou, Malwina Prater, Simon J Tunster, Georgina E T Blake, Colleen Geary Joo, James C Cross, Russell S Hamilton, and Erica D Watson

Assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) are becoming increasingly common. Therefore, how these procedures influence gene regulation and foeto-placental development are important to explore. Here, we assess the effects of blastocyst transfer on mouse placental growth and transcriptome. C57Bl/6 blastocysts were transferred into uteri of B6D2F1 pseudopregnant females and dissected at embryonic day 10.5 for analysis. Compared to non-transferred controls, placentas from transferred conceptuses weighed less even though the embryos were larger on average. This suggested a compensatory increase in placental efficiency. RNA sequencing of whole male placentas revealed 543 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) after blastocyst transfer: 188 and 355 genes were downregulated and upregulated, respectively. DEGs were independently validated in male and female placentas. Bioinformatic analyses revealed that DEGs represented expression in all major placental cell types and included genes that are critical for placenta development and/or function. Furthermore, the direction of transcriptional change in response to blastocyst transfer implied an adaptive response to improve placental function to maintain foetal growth. Our analysis revealed that CpG methylation at regulatory regions of two DEGs was unchanged in female transferred placentas and that DEGs had fewer gene-associated CpG islands (within ~20 kb region) compared to the larger genome. These data suggested that altered methylation at proximal promoter regions might not lead to transcriptional disruption in transferred placentas. Genomic clustering of some DEGs warrants further investigation of long-range, cis-acting epigenetic mechanisms including histone modifications together with DNA methylation. We conclude that embryo transfer, a protocol required for ART, significantly impacts the placental transcriptome and growth.

Open access

Y Li, Michelle K Y Seah, and C O'Neill

Reprogramming epigenetic modifications to cytosine is required for normal embryo development. We used improved immunolocalization techniques to simultaneously map global changes in the levels of 5′-methylcytosine (5meC) and 5′-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) in each cell of the embryo from fertilization through the first rounds of cellular differentiation. The male and female pronuclei of the zygote showed similar staining levels, and these remained elevated over the next three cell cycles. The inner cells of the morula showed a progressive reduction in global levels of both 5meC and 5hmC and further losses occurred in the pluripotent inner cell mass (ICM) of the blastocyst. This was accompanied by undetectable levels of DNA methyltransferase of each class in the nuclei of the ICM, while DNA methyltransferase 3B was elevated in the hypermethylated nuclei of the trophectoderm (TE). Segregation of the ICM into hypoblast and epiblast was accompanied by increased levels in the hypoblast compared with the epiblast. Blastocyst outgrowth in vitro is a model for implantation and showed that a demethylated state persisted in the epiblast while the hypoblast had higher levels of both 5meC and 5hmC staining. The high levels of 5meC and 5hmC evident in the TE persisted in trophoblast and trophoblast giant cells after attachment of the blastocyst to the substratum in vitro. This study shows that global cytosine hypomethylation and hypohydroxymethylation accompanied the formation of the pluripotent ICM and this persisted into the epiblast after blastocyst outgrowth, and each differentiated lineage formed in the early embryo showed higher global levels of 5meC and 5hmC.

Open access

Guangdong Li, Xiuzhi Tian, Dongying Lv, Lu Zhang, Zhenzhen Zhang, Jing Wang, Minghui Yang, Jingli Tao, Teng Ma, Hao Wu, Pengyun Ji, Yingjie Wu, Zhengxing Lian, Wei Cui, and Guoshi Liu

NLRP (NACHT, LRR and PYD domain-containing proteins) family plays pivotal roles in mammalian reproduction. Mutation of NLRP7 is often associated with human recurrent hydatidiform moles. Few studies regarding the functions of NLRP7 have been performed in other mammalian species rather than humans. In the current study, for the first time, the function of NLRP7 has been explored in ovine ovary. NLRP7 protein was mainly located in ovarian follicles and in in vitro pre-implantation embryos. To identify its origin, 763 bp partial CDS of NLRP7 deriving from sheep cumulus oocyte complexes (COCs) was cloned, it showed a great homology with Homo sapiens. The high levels of mRNA and protein of NLRP7 were steadily expressed in oocytes, parthenogenetic embryos or IVF embryos. NLRP7 knockdown by the combination of siRNA and shRNA jeopardized both the parthenogenetic and IVF embryo development. These results strongly suggest that NLRP7 plays an important role in ovine reproduction. The potential mechanisms of NLRP7 will be fully investigated in the future.

Open access

Rowena Smith, Sue J Pickering, Anna Kopakaki, K J Thong, Richard A Anderson, and Chih-Jen Lin

Elucidating the mechanisms underpinning fertilisation is essential to optimising IVF procedures. One of the critical steps involves paternal chromatin reprogramming, in which compacted sperm chromatin packed by protamines is removed by oocyte factors and new histones, including histone H3.3, are incorporated. HIRA is the main H3.3 chaperone governing this protamine-to-histone exchange. Failure of this step results in abnormally fertilised zygotes containing only one pronucleus (1PN), in contrast to normal two-pronuclei (2PN) zygotes. 1PN zygotes are frequently observed in IVF treatments, but the genotype-phenotype correlation remains elusive. We investigated the maternal functions of two other molecules of the HIRA complex, Cabin1 and Ubn1, in mouse. Loss-of-function Cabin1 and Ubn1 mouse models were developed: their zygotes displayed an abnormal 1PN zygote phenotype. We then studied human 1PN zygotes and found that the HIRA complex was absent in 1PN zygotes that lacked the male pronucleus. This shows that the role of the HIRA complex in male pronucleus formation potentially has coherence from mice to humans. Furthermore, rescue experiments in mouse showed that the abnormal 1PN phenotype derived from Hira mutants could be resolved by overexpression of HIRA. We have demonstrated that HIRA complex regulates male pronucleus formation in mice and is implicated in humans, that both CABIN1 and UBN1 components of the HIRA complex are equally essential for male pronucleus formation, and that rescue is feasible.

Open access

Panayiota Ploutarchou, Pedro Melo, Anthony J Day, Caroline M Milner, and Suzannah A Williams

During follicle development, oocytes secrete factors that influence the development of granulosa and cumulus cells (CCs). In response to oocyte and somatic cell signals, CCs produce extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules resulting in cumulus expansion, which is essential for ovulation, fertilisation, and is predictive of oocyte quality. The cumulus ECM is largely made up of hyaluronan (HA), TNF-stimulated gene-6 (TSG-6, also known as TNFAIP6), pentraxin-3 (PTX3), and the heavy chains (HCs) of serum-derived inter-α-inhibitor proteins. In contrast to other in vivo models where modified expansion impairs fertility, the cumulus mass of C1galt1 Mutants, which have oocyte-specific deletion of core 1-derived O-glycans, is modified without impairing fertility. In this report, we used C1galt1 Mutant (C1galt1 FF:ZP3Cre) and Control (C1galt1 FF) mice to investigate how cumulus expansion is affected by oocyte-specific deletion of core 1-derived O-glycans without adversely affecting oocyte quality. Mutant cumulus–oocyte complexes (COCs) are smaller than Controls, with fewer CCs. Interestingly, the CCs in Mutant mice are functionally normal as each cell produced normal levels of the ECM molecules HA, TSG-6, and PTX3. However, HC levels were elevated in Mutant COCs. These data reveal that oocyte glycoproteins carrying core 1-derived O-glycans have a regulatory role in COC development. In addition, our study of Controls indicates that a functional COC can form provided all essential components are present above a minimum threshold level, and thus some variation in ECM composition does not adversely affect oocyte development, ovulation or fertilisation. These data have important implications for IVF and the use of cumulus expansion as a criterion for oocyte assessment.