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Jarmon G Lees, Joy Rathjen, John R Sheedy, David K Gardner and Alexandra J Harvey

Oxygen is a powerful regulator of cell function and embryonic development. It has previously been determined that oxygen regulates human embryonic stem (hES) cell glycolytic and amino acid metabolism, but the effects on mitochondria are as yet unknown. Two hES cell lines (MEL1, MEL2) were analyzed to determine the role of 5% (physiological) and 20% (atmospheric) oxygen in regulating mitochondrial activity. In response to extended physiological oxygen culture, MEL2 hES cells displayed reduced mtDNA content, mitochondrial mass and expression of metabolic genes TFAM, NRF1, PPARa and MT-ND4. Furthermore, MEL2 hES cell glucose consumption, lactate production and amino acid turnover were elevated under physiological oxygen. In stark contrast, MEL1 hES cell amino acid and carbohydrate use and mitochondrial function were relatively unaltered in response to oxygen. Furthermore, differentiation kinetics were delayed in the MEL1 hES cell line following BMP4 treatment. Here we report the first incidence of metabolic dysfunction in a hES cell population, defined as a failure to respond to oxygen concentration through the modulation of metabolism, demonstrating that hES cells can be perturbed during culture despite exhibiting the defining characteristics of pluripotent cells. Collectively, these data reveal a central role for oxygen in the regulation of hES cell metabolism and mitochondrial function, whereby physiological oxygen promotes glucose flux and suppresses mitochondrial biogenesis and gene expression.

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Thanh T Nguyen, Allan M Sheppard, Peter L Kaye and Peter G Noakes

Although IGF-I and insulin are important modulators of preimplantation embryonic physiology, the signalling pathways activated during development remain to be elucidated. As a model of preimplantation embryos, pluripotent mouse embryonic stem cells were used to investigate which receptor mediated actions of physiological concentrations of IGF-I and insulin on growth measured by protein synthesis. Exposure of mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells to 1.7 pM IGF-I or 1.7 nM insulin for 4 h caused ~25% increase in protein synthesis when compared with cells cultured in basal medium containing BSA. Dose–response studies showed 100-fold higher potency of IGF-I that pointed to the type 1 IGF receptor as the mediating receptor for both ligands. This was confirmed using an anti-type 1 IGF receptor-blocking antibody (αIR3). Both 1.7 pM IGF-I and 1.7 nM insulin increased phosphorylation of the type 1 IGF receptor and this increase was blocked by αIR3, but the insulin receptor was not phosphorylated. Finally, binding of either agonist led to downstream phosphorylation of ERK1/2 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) also via IGF-1R as this was blocked by αIR3. Together, these results suggest that IGF-I and insulin modulate ES cell physiology through binding to the type 1 IGF receptor and subsequent activation of MAPK pathway.

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Shi Yang, Qingqing Yuan, Minghui Niu, Jingmei Hou, Zijue Zhu, Min Sun, Zheng Li and Zuping He

Generation of male germ cells from pluripotent cells could provide male gametes for treating male infertility and offer an ideal model for unveiling molecular mechanisms of spermatogenesis. However, the influence and exact molecular mechanisms, especially downstream effectors of BMP4 signaling pathways, in male germ cell differentiation of the induce pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, remain unknown. This study was designed to explore the role and mechanism of BMP4 signaling in the differentiation of mouse iPS cells to male germ cells. Embryoid body (EB) formation and recombinant BMP4 or Noggin were utilized to evaluate the effect of BMP4 on male germ cell generation from mouse iPS cells. Germ cell-specific genes and proteins as well as the downstream effectors of BMP4 signaling pathway were assessed using real-time PCR and Western blots. We found that BMP4 ligand and its multiple receptors, including BMPR1a, BMPR1b and BMPR2, were expressed in mouse iPS cells. Real-time PCR and Western blots revealed that BMP4 could upregulate the levels of genes and proteins for germ cell markers in iPS cells-derived EBs, whereas Noggin decreased their expression in these cells. Moreover, Smad1/5 phosphorylation, Gata4 transcription and the transcripts of Id1 and Id2 were enhanced by BMP4 but decreased when exposed to Noggin. Collectively, these results suggest that BMP4 promotes the generation of male germ cells from iPS cells via Smad1/5 pathway and the activation of Gata4, Id1 and Id2. This study thus offers novel insights into molecular mechanisms underlying male germ cell development.

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Jiang Wen, Juan Liu, Guangqi Song, Limei Liu, Bo Tang and Ziyi Li

6-Bromoindirubin-3′-oxime (BIO), which is one of the glycogen synthase kinase 3 inhibitors and a key regulator of numerous signaling pathways, was reported to be capable of maintaining the pluripotency of human and mouse embryonic stem cells. Presently, it is unknown whether BIO can influence the derivation of porcine embryonic germ (EG) cells. In this study, porcine primordial germ cells (PGCs) were isolated from gonads of 24- and 28-day embryos, and were then treated with BIO either individually or in combination with other cytokines (stem cell factor (SCF), leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), and fibroblast growth factor (FGF); abbreviated as ‘3F’), and the effects of the treatment on the proliferation ability of porcine PGCs at early stage were examined using 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (Brdu) immunostaining assay. After continuous culture, the effects on the efficiency of porcine undifferentiated EG cells in the third passage and differentiated EG cells from embryoid bodies were examined as well. The results obtained through the observation of the Brdu-labeled PGCs indicated that BIO in combination with 3F resulted in a significant increase in the mitosis index, and also indicated that the BIO in combination with 3F had a higher efficiency in promoting the formation of porcine EG colony derived from porcine day 24 PGCs than BIO used either individually or in combination with LIF. In addition, BIO in combination with 3F exhibited the apparent anti-differentiation activity by reversing the differentiated EG cells to the undifferentiated status. Our results demonstrate that BIO in combination with SCF, LIF, and FGF could significantly contribute to the establishment of a porcine EG cell colony and maintain the undifferentiated status.

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Pouneh Maraghechi, László Hiripi, Gábor Tóth, Babett Bontovics, Zsuzsanna Bősze and Elen Gócza

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that regulate multiple biological processes. Increasing experimental evidence implies an important regulatory role of miRNAs during embryonic development and in embryonic stem (ES) cell biology. In the current study, we have described and analyzed the expression profile of pluripotency-associated miRNAs in rabbit embryos and ES-like cells. The rabbit specific ocu-miR-302 and ocu-miR-290 clusters, and three homologs of the human C19MC cluster (ocu-miR-512, ocu-miR-520e, and ocu-miR-498) were identified in rabbit preimplantation embryos and ES-like cells. The ocu-miR-302 cluster was highly similar to its human homolog, while ocu-miR-290 revealed a low level of evolutionary conservation with its mouse homologous cluster. The expression of the ocu-miR-302 cluster began at the 3.5 days post-coitum early blastocyst stage and they stayed highly expressed in rabbit ES-like cells. In contrast, a high expression level of the ocu-miR-290 cluster was detected during preimplantation embryonic development, but a low level of expression was found in rabbit ES-like cells. Differential expression of the ocu-miR-302 cluster and ocu-miR-512 miRNA was detected in rabbit trophoblast and embryoblast. We also found that Lefty has two potential target sites in its 3′UTR for ocu-miR-302a and its expression level increased upon ocu-miR-302a inhibition. We suggest that the expression of the ocu-miR-302 cluster is characteristic of the rabbit ES-like cell, while the ocu-miR-290 cluster may play a crucial role during early embryonic development. This study presents the first identification, to our knowledge, of pluripotency-associated miRNAs in rabbit preimplantation embryos and ES-like cells, which can open up new avenues to investigate the regulatory function of ocu-miRNAs in embryonic development and stem cell biology.

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Xue Li, Zhi-Yan Shan, Yan-Shuang Wu, Xing-Hui Shen, Chun-Jia Liu, Jing-Ling Shen, Zhong-Hua Liu and Lei Lei

Pig pluripotent cells may represent an advantageous experimental tool for developing therapeutic application in the human biomedical field. However, it has previously been proven to be difficult to establish from the early embryo and its pluripotency has not been distinctly documented. In recent years, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology provides a new method of reprogramming somatic cells to pluripotent state. The generation of iPS cells together with or without certain small molecules has become a routine technique. However, the generation of iPS cells from pig embryonic tissues using viral infections together with small molecules has not been reported. Here, we reported the generation of induced pig pluripotent cells (iPPCs) using the iPS technology in combination with valproic acid (VPA). VPA treatment significantly increased the expression of pluripotent genes and played an important role in early reprogramming. We showed that iPPCs resembled pig epiblast cells in their morphology and pluripotent markers, such as OCT4, NANOG, and SSEA1. It had a normal karyotype and could form embryoid bodies, which express three germ layer markers in vitro. In addition, the iPPCs might directly differentiate into neural progenitors after being induced with the retinoic acid and extracellular matrix. Our study established a reasonable method to generate pig pluripotent cells, which might be a new donor cell source for human neural disease therapy.

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Anran Fan, Kuiying Ma, Xinglan An, Yu Ding, Peipei An, Guangqi Song, Lina Tang, Sheng Zhang, Peng Zhang, Wentao Tan, Bo Tang, Xueming Zhang and Ziyi Li

TET1 is implicated in maintaining the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells. However, its precise effects on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and particularly on porcine iPSCs (piPSCs), are not well defined. To investigate the role of TET1 in the pluripotency and differentiation of piPSCs, piPSCs were induced from porcine embryonic fibroblasts by overexpression of POU5F1 (OCT4), SOX2, KLF4, and MYC (C-MYC). siRNAs targeting to TET1 were used to transiently knockdown the expression of TET1 in piPSCs. Morphological abnormalities and loss of the undifferentiated state of piPSCs were observed in the piPSCs after the downregulation of TET1. The effects of TET1 knockdown on the expression of key stem cell factors and differentiation markers were analyzed to gain insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the phenomenon. The results revealed that knockdown of TET1 resulted in the downregulated expression of pluripotency-related genes, such as LEFTY2, KLF2, and SOX2, and the upregulated expression of differentiation-related genes including PITX2, HAND1, GATA6, and LEF1. However, POU5F1, M YC, KLF4, and NANOG were actually not downregulated. Further analysis showed that the methylation levels of the promoters for POU5F1 and M YC increased significantly after TET1 downregulation, whereas there were no obvious changes in the promoters of SOX2, KLF4, and NANOG. The methylation of the whole genome increased, while hydroxymethylation slightly declined. Taken together, these results suggest that TET1 may play important roles in the self-renewal of piPSCs and the maintenance of their characteristics by regulating the expression of genes and the DNA methylation.

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S Tielens, B Verhasselt, J Liu, M Dhont, J Van Der Elst and M Cornelissen

Embryonic stem (ES) cells are the source of all embryonic germ layer tissues. Oct-4 is essential for their pluripotency. Since in vitro culture may influence Oct-4 expression, we investigated to what extent blastocysts cultured in vitro from the zygote stage are capable of expressing Oct-4 and generating ES cell lines. We compared in vivo with in vitro derived blastocysts from B6D2 mice with regard to Oct-4 expression in inner cell mass (ICM) outgrowths and blastocysts. ES cells were characterized by immunostaining for alkaline phosphatase (ALP), stage-specific embryonic antigen-1 (SSEA-1) and Oct-4. Embryoid bodies were made to evaluate the ES cells’ differentiation potential. ICM outgrowths were immunostained for Oct-4 after 6 days in culture. A quantitative real-time PCR assay was performed on individual blastocysts. Of the in vitro derived blastocysts, 17% gave rise to ES cells vs 38% of the in vivo blastocysts. Six-day old outgrowths from in vivo developed blastocysts expressed Oct-4 in 55% of the cases vs 31% of the in vitro derived blastocysts. The amount of Oct-4 mRNA was significantly higher for freshly collected in vivo blastocysts compared to in vitro cultured blastocysts. In vitro cultured mouse blastocysts retain the capacity to express Oct-4 and to generate ES cells, be it to a lower level than in vivo blastocysts.

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David Monk, Marta Sanchez-Delgado and Rosemary Fisher

Before activation of the embryonic genome, the oocyte provides many of the RNAs and proteins required for the epigenetic reprogramming and the transition to a totipotent state. Targeted disruption of a subset of oocyte-derived transcripts in mice results in early embryonic lethality and cleavage-stage embryonic arrest as highlighted by the members of the subcortical maternal complex (SCMC). Maternal-effect recessive mutations of NLRP7, KHDC3L and NLRP5 in humans are associated with variable reproductive outcomes, biparental hydatidiform moles (BiHM) and widespread multi-locus imprinting disturbances. The precise mechanism of action of these genes is unknown, but the maternal-effect phenomenon suggests a function during early pre-implantation development, while biochemical and genetic studies implement them as SCMC members or interacting partners. In this review article, we discuss the role of the NLRP family members and the SCMC proteins in the establishment of genomic imprints and post-zygotic methylation maintenance, the recent advances made in the understanding of the biology involved in BiHM formation and the wider roles of the SCMC in mammalian reproduction.

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Yu Zheng, LeAnna J Phillips, Rachel Hartman, Junhui An and Christina T Dann

Expression levels of the pluripotency determinant, POU5F1, are tightly regulated to ensure appropriate differentiation during early embryogenesis. POU5F1 is also present in the spermatogonial stem cell/progenitor cell population in mice and it is downregulated as spermatogenesis progresses. To test if POU5F1 downregulation is required for SSCs to differentiate, we produced transgenic mice that ubiquitously express POU5F1 in Cre-expressing lineages. Using a Vasa-Cre driver to produce ectopic POU5F1 in all postnatal germ cells, we found that POU5F1 downregulation was necessary for spermatogonial expansion during the first wave of spermatogenesis and for the production of differentiated spermatogonia capable of undergoing meiosis. In contrast, undifferentiated spermatogonia were maintained throughout adulthood, consistent with a normal presence of POU5F1 in these cells. The results suggest that POU5F1 downregulation in differentiating spermatogonia is a necessary step for the progression of spermatogenesis. Further, the creation of a transgenic mouse model for conditional ectopic expression of POU5F1 may be a useful resource for studies of POU5F1 in other cell lineages, during tumorogenesis and cell fate reprogramming.