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Irene Ruiz-González, Jing Xu, Xiaoqiu Wang, Robert C Burghardt, Kathrin A Dunlap and Fuller W Bazer

Conceptus–endometrial communication during the peri-implantation period of pregnancy ensures establishment of pregnancy. We hypothesized that this dialog involves exosomes, ovine endogenous jaagsiekte retroviruses (enJSRV) and toll-like receptors (TLR) which regulate the secretion of interferon tau (IFNT), the pregnancy recognition signal in ruminants. First, exosomes isolated from uterine flushings from cyclic and pregnant ewes were analyzed for exosomal content and uterine expression of heat shock protein 70 (HSC70). Then, conceptus trophectoderm cells (oTr1) treated with different doses of exosomes were analyzed for the expression of genes involved in TLR-mediated cell signaling. The results revealed that exosomes contain mRNAs for enJSRV-ENV, HSC70, interleukins, and interferon (IFN)-regulatory factors. Exosomal content of enJSRV-ENV mRNA and protein decreased from days 10 and 12 to day 16 of gestation, and uterine expression of HSC70 increased in pregnant ewes compared with cyclic ewes. The oTr1 cells proliferated and secreted IFNT in a dose-dependent manner in response to exosomes from cyclic ewes. The expression of CD14, CD68, IRAK1, TRAF6, IRF6, and IRF7 mRNAs that are key to TLR-mediated expression of type 1 IFNs was significantly influenced by day of pregnancy. This study demonstrated that exosomes are liberated into the uterine lumen during the estrous cycle and early pregnancy; however, in pregnant ewes, exosomes stimulate trophectoderm cells to proliferate and secrete IFNT coordinately with regulation of TLR-mediated cell signaling. These results support our hypothesis that free and/or exosomal enJSRV act on the trophectoderm via TLR to induce the secretion of IFNT in a manner similar to that for innate immune responses of macrophages and plasmacytoid dendritic cells to viral pathogens.

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Irene Ruiz-González, Megan Minten, Xiaoqiu Wang, Kathrin A Dunlap and Fuller W Bazer

Toll-like receptors (TLRs) belong to the innate immune system and regulate inflammatory events that affect mammalian reproduction. In Study 1, we demonstrated that abundance of ovine TLR1TLR9 mRNAs in the uterus differs due to reproductive status (TLR2, TLR3, TLR7, and TLR8) and the day of the estrous cycle and pregnancy (TLR1TLR3, TLR5TLR7, and TLR9). Expression of TLR7 and TLR8 proteins was localized primarily to uterine epithelia and stroma and regulated in a temporal manner. In Study 2, we determined that ovine conceptuses express TLR7 and TLR8 on all days studied and that expression of the envelope protein of ovine endogenous retrovirus (enJSRV-Env) declined in conceptus trophectoderm from Day 13 to Day 16 of pregnancy. In Study 3, loss-of-function experiments were conducted in vivo using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides (MAOs) injected into the uterine lumen to block synthesis of TLR7 and TLR8 proteins, individually and jointly. Conceptuses were recovered on Day 16 to assess their morphology. MAO-treated conceptuses were developmentally retarded, produced less interferon tau (IFNT), and had fewer binucleate cells (BNCs) compared with MAO-Controls. Moreover, expression of enJSRV-Env mRNA in MAO-TLR7 conceptuses was greater than that for MAO-Control and MAO-TLR8 conceptuses, but similar to MAO-TLR7/TLR8 conceptuses. Results of this study indicated differences in TLR1TLR9 expression due to reproductive status and the day of the estrous cycle and pregnancy. TLR7 and TLR8 also influence development, enJSRV-Env abundance, secretion of IFNT, and formation of BNCs by conceptuses. These findings corroborate our hypothesis that TLR7 and TLR8 mediate pathways whereby enJSRV-Env regulates key peri-implantation events in conceptus development and differentiated functions of trophectoderm cells.