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D A Rappolee, S Zhou, E E Puscheck and Y Xie

Development can happen in one of two ways. Cells performing a necessary function can differentiate from stem cells before the need for it arises and stress does not develop. Or need arises before function, stress develops and stress signals are part of the normal stimuli that regulate developmental mechanisms. These mechanisms adjust stem cell differentiation to produce function in a timely and proportional manner. In this review, we will interpret data from studies of null lethal mutants for placental stress genes that suggest the latter possibility. Acknowledged stress pathways participate in stress-induced and -regulated differentiation in two ways. These pathways manage the homeostatic response to maintain stem cells during the stress. Stress pathways also direct stem cell differentiation to increase the first essential lineage and suppress later lineages when stem cell accumulation is diminished. This stress-induced differentiation maintains the conceptus during stress. Pathogenic outcomes arise because population sizes of normal stem cells are first depleted by decreased accumulation. The fraction of stem cells is further decreased by differentiation that is induced to compensate for smaller stem cell populations. Analysis of placental lethal null mutant genes known to mediate stress responses suggests that the labyrinthine placenta develops during, and is regulated by, hypoxic stress.

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Xiaoqing Yang, Meivita Devianti, Yuan H Yang, Yih Rue Ong, Ker Sin Tan, Shanti Gurung, Jean L Tan, Dandan Zhu, Rebecca Lim, Caroline E Gargett and James A Deane

Perivascular mesenchymal stem/stromal cells can be isolated from the human endometrium using the surface marker SUSD2 and are being investigated for use in tissue repair. Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from other tissues modulate T cell responses via mechanisms including interleukin-10, prostaglandin E2, TGF-β1 and regulatory T cells. Animal studies demonstrate that endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells can also modify immune responses to implanted mesh, but the mechanism/s they employ have not been explored. We examined the immunomodulatory properties of human endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells on lymphocyte proliferation using mouse splenocyte cultures. Endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells inhibited mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation in vitro in a dose-dependent manner. Inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation was not affected by blocking the mouse interleukin-10 receptor or inhibiting prostaglandin production. Endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells continued to restrain lymphocyte proliferation in the presence of an inhibitor of TGF-β receptors, despite a reduction in regulatory T cells. Thus, the in vitro inhibition of mitogen-induced lymphocyte proliferation by endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells occurs by a mechanism distinct from the interleukin-10, prostaglandin E2, TGF-β1 and regulatory T cell-mediated mechanisms employed by MSC from other tissues. eMSCs were shown to produce interleukin-17A and Dickkopf-1 which may contribute to their immunomodulatory properties. In contrast to MSC from other sources, systemic administration of endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells did not inhibit swelling in a T cell-mediated model of skin inflammation. We conclude that, while endometrial mesenchymal stem/stromal cells can modify immune responses, their immunomodulatory repertoire may not be sufficient to restrain some T cell-mediated inflammatory events.

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Deepa Bhartiya and Jarnail Singh

Despite extensive research, genetic basis of premature ovarian failure (POF) and ovarian cancer still remains elusive. It is indeed paradoxical that scientists searched for mutations in FSH receptor (FSHR) expressed on granulosa cells, whereas more than 90% of cancers arise in ovary surface epithelium (OSE). Two distinct populations of stem cells including very small embryonic-like stem cells (VSELs) and ovarian stem cells (OSCs) exist in OSE, are responsible for neo-oogenesis and primordial follicle assembly in adult life, and are modulated by FSH via its alternatively spliced receptor variant FSHR3 (growth factor type 1 receptor acting via calcium signaling and the ERK/MAPK pathway). Any defect in FSH–FSHR3–stem cell interaction in OSE may affect folliculogenesis and thus result in POF. Ovarian aging is associated with a compromised microenvironment that does not support stem cell differentiation into oocytes and further folliculogenesis. FSH exerts a mitogenic effect on OSE and elevated FSH levels associated with advanced age may provide a continuous trigger for stem cells to proliferate resulting in cancer, thus supporting gonadotropin theory for ovarian cancer. Present review is an attempt to put adult ovarian biology, POF, aging, and cancer in the perspective of FSH–FSHR3–stem cell network that functions in OSE. This hypothesis is further supported by the recent understanding that: i) cancer is a stem cell disease and OSE is the niche for ovarian cancer stem cells; ii) ovarian OCT4-positive stem cells are regulated by FSH; and iii) OCT4 along with LIN28 and BMP4 are highly expressed in ovarian cancers.

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D. J. Tisdall, A. E. Fidler, P. Smith, L. D. Quirke, V. C. Stent, D. A. Heath and K. P. McNatty

The aim of this study was to investigate stem cell factor and c-kit gene expression and protein localization in the mesonephros and ovary of sheep fetuses at different days of gestation, using RNA in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical procedures. At days 24 and 26 of gestation, stem cell factor mRNA and protein were present in cells throughout the developing gonad and mesonephros. From day 28 to day 40 of gestation, stem cell factor mRNA and protein became increasingly localized to the cortical region of the ovary, where most germ cells were present as actively proliferating oogonia. From day 40 to day 90 of gestation, stem cell factor mRNA and protein localization were confined mainly to the ovarian cortex. Moreover, within the cortical region, stem cell factor mRNA was low or absent where follicles were first forming and highest in the outer ovarian cortex, where germ cells were undergoing mitosis or the early stages of meiosis. In contrast, stem cell factor protein was present in newly forming follicles, as well as in mitotic and meiotic germ cells, which is consistent with the presence of both membrane-bound and soluble forms of this ligand. However, by day 90 of gestation, both stem cell factor mRNA and protein were observed in the granulosa cells of most (> 90%) primordial follicles. C-kit mRNA and protein were observed from day 24 of gestation in both germ cells and somatic cells but, with increasing gestational age, preferentially in germ cells (for example, pre-meiotic germ cells and both isolated oocytes and follicle-enclosed oocytes). C-kit protein, but not mRNA, was also observed in germ cells that were undergoing meiosis. The results indicate that the cells containing stem cell factor mRNA within the ovary up to day 90 of gestation originated from the gonadal blastema and from cells that migrated from the mesonephros before day 28 of gestation. Since stem cell factor mRNA was absent in both mesonephric cells migrating after day 28 of gestation and in regions where follicles were first forming, it is suggested that these later migrating mesonephric cells are the progenitors of the granulosa cells in the first forming follicles. In conclusion, during follicle formation, c-kit mRNA is localized to germ cells whereas c-kit, together with stem cell factor protein, is localized to both germ cells and somatic cells, consistent with the hypothesis that the presence of this receptor–ligand pair is essential to prevent apoptosis.

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DS Johnston, LD Russell and MD Griswold

Spermatogonial stem cell transplantation was first reported by Ralph Brinster's laboratory in 1994. It has proven to be a technological breakthrough in the study of both stem cells and Sertoli cell-germ cell interactions. This technique can be used to transfer testicular stem cells successfully from one animal to another of the same species (referred to as syngeneic transplants) and sometimes to an animal of a different species (xenogeneic transplants). This transfer technique, combined with developments in cryopreservation, long-term culture, and the enrichment of stem cell populations makes more significant breakthroughs likely in the near future. Ultimately, the application of spermatogonial stem cell transfer will allow transplantation of cultured stem cells manipulated genetically in vitro to give rise to functional male gametes with an altered genotype. This achievement will have applications in basic science, human medicine, and domestic and wild animal reproduction. Although progress toward this goal has been swift, potentially significant barriers, such as the stable incorporation of genetic material into stem cells and immunological responses to the introduced germ cells, remain to be overcome. This article is a review of the scientific advances made since the initial report of successful transplantation in 1994.

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Yue-Mao Zheng, Hui-Ying Zhao, Xiao-E Zhao, Fu-Sheng Quan, Song Hua, Xiao-Ying He, Jun Liu, Xiao-Ning He and Hui Lin

We assessed the developmental ability of embryos cloned from porcine neural stem (NS) cells, amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells, fetal fibroblast cells, adult fibroblast, and mammary gland epithelial cells. The five cell lines were transfected with enhanced green fluorescence protein gene respectively using lipofection. NS and AFS cells were induced to differentiate in vitro. Stem cells and their differentiated cells were harvested for analysis of the markers using RT-PCR. The five cell lines were used for nuclear transfer. The two-cell stage-cloned embryos derived from each cell line were transferred into the oviducts of surrogate mothers. The results showed that both NS and AFS cells expressed POU5F1, THY1 and SOX2, and they were both induced to differentiate into astrocyte (GFAP+), oligodendrocyte (GalC+), neuron (NF+, ENO2+, and MAP2+), adipocyte (LPL+ and PPARG-D+), osteoblast (osteonectin+ and osteocalcin+), myocyte (MYF6+ and MYOD+), and endothelium (PECAM1+, CD34+, CDH5+, and NOS3+) respectively. Seven cloned fetuses (28 days and 32 days) derived from stem cells were obtained. The in vitro developmental ability (morula–blastocyst rate was 28.26–30.07%) and in vivo developmental ability (pregnancy rate were 1.67–2.17%) of the embryos cloned from stem cells were higher (P<0.05) than that of the embryos cloned from somatic cells (morula–blastocyst rate was 16.27–19.28% and pregnancy rate was 0.00%), which suggests that the undifferentiated state of the donor cells increases cloning efficiency.

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Bingteng Xie, Heng Zhang, Renyue Wei, Qiannan Li, Xiaogang Weng, Qingran Kong and Zhonghua Liu

Aberrant epigenetic reprogramming is the main obstacle to the development of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) embryos and the generation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which results in the low reprogramming efficiencies of SCNT and iPS. Histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), as a repressive epigenetic mark, plays important roles in mammalian development and iPS induction. However, the reprogramming of H3K27me3 in pig remains elusive. In this study, we showed that H3K27me3 levels in porcine early cloned embryos were higher than that in IVF embryos. Then GSK126 and GSK-J4, two small molecule inhibitors of H3K27me3 methylase (EZH2) and demethylases (UTX/JMJD3), were used to regulate the H3K27me3 level. The results showed that H3K27me3 level was reduced in cloned embryos after treatment of PEF with 0.75 μM GSK126 for 48 h, incubation of one-cell reconstructed oocytes with 0.1 μM GSK126 and injection of antibody for EZH2 into oocyte. Meanwhile, the development of the cloned embryos was significantly improved after these treatments. On the contrary, GSK-J4 treatment increased the H3K27me3 level in cloned embryos and decreased the cloned embryonic development. Furthermore, iPS efficiency was both increased after reducing the H3K27me3 level in donor cells and in early reprogramming phase. In summary, our results suggest that H3K27me3 acts as an epigenetic barrier in SCNT and iPS reprogramming, and reduction of H3K27me3 level in donor cells and in early reprogramming phase can enhance both porcine SCNT and iPS efficiency.

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Katarzyna Miernik and Janusz Karasinski

The uterus has a remarkable ability of cycling remodeling throughout the reproductive life of the female. Recent findings in the human and mouse indicate that adult stem/progenitor cells may play a prominent role in the maintenance of uterine endometrial and myometrial homeostasis. We aimed to characterize the prospective stem/progenitor cells in the porcine uterus and establish a new model for uterine stem cell research. In this study, we demonstrated that cells isolated from porcine uterus have capacity for in vitro differentiation into adipogenic and osteogenic lineages and express the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) markers CD29, CD44, CD144, CD105, and CD140b as revealed by RT-PCR. Moreover, we showed that some cells isolated from the porcine uterus when cultured at low density produce large clones with an efficiency of 0.035%. Simultaneously, they were negative for hematopoietic stem cell markers such as CD34 and CD45. Low expression of nestin, which is specific for neural stem cells and various progenitor cells, was also detected. We conclude that the porcine uterus contains a small population of undifferentiated cells with MSC-like properties similar to human and mouse uteri.

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Paul A De Sousa, George Galea and Marc Turner

Harnessing the unparalleled properties of human embryo stem cells (hESCs) for the therapeutic treatment of disease and injury will require a convergence of scientific developments with regulatory standards. In the case of the latter, it is especially critical that standards for clinically assisted reproduction be harmonized with those governing human cell and tissue transplantation, most notably with respect to procurement, donation, testing, processing, preservation, storage and distribution of cells. In the UK, existing infrastructure to address these considerations is undergoing extensive reorganization to keep pace with evolving European Union standards. The present best paradigm for defining standards for the therapeutic use of embryo-derived stem cells is experience with adult haematopoietic stem cells (HSC). However, compared with adult-derived stem cell, the origin of embryo-derived stem cells from limiting quantities of tissue and their absolute dependence on in vitro culture to realise their therapeutic potential, makes optimization of their isolation and cultivation of even greater importance. Most notable is the requirement to create animal cell product-free culture environments to reduce the risk of cross-specific disease transmission. In the present paper, we review present and emerging standards in the isolation and banking of human embryo-derived stem cells for therapeutic use in the UK and international progress in the development of defined culture systems for this purpose.

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Enrique Gómez, Alfonso Gutiérrez-Adán, Carmen Díez, Pablo Bermejo-Alvarez, Marta Muñoz, Aida Rodriguez, Jesús Otero, María Alvarez-Viejo, David Martín, Susana Carrocera and José Néstor Caamaño

Parthenotes may represent an alternate ethical source of stem cells, once biological differences between parthenotes and embryos can be understood. In this study, we analyzed development, trophectoderm (TE) differentiation, apoptosis/necrosis, and ploidy in parthenotes and in vitro produced bovine embryos. Subsequently, using real-time PCR, we analyzed the expression of genes expected to underlie the observed differences at the blastocyst stage. In vitro matured oocytes were either fertilized or activated with ionomycin +6-DMAP and cultured in simple medium. Parthenotes showed enhanced blastocyst development and diploidy and reduced TE cell counts. Apoptotic and necrotic indexes did not vary, but parthenotes evidenced a higher relative proportion of apoptotic cells between inner cell mass and TE. The pluripotence-related POU5F1 and the methylation DNMT3A genes were downregulated in parthenotes. Among pregnancy recognition genes, TP-1 was upregulated in parthenotes, while PGRMC1 and PLAC8 did not change. Expression of p66 shc and BAX/BCL2 ratio were higher, and p53 lower, in parthenotes. Among metabolism genes, SLC2A1 was downregulated, while AKR1B1, PTGS2, H6PD, and TXN were upregulated in parthenotes, and SLC2A5 did not differ. Among genes involved in compaction/blastulation, GJA1 was downregulated in parthenotes, but no differences were detected within ATP1A1 and CDH1. Within parthenotes, the expression levels of SLC2A1, TP-1, and H6PD, and possibly AKR1B1, resemble patterns described in female embryos. The pro-apoptotic profile is more pronounced in parthenotes than in embryos, which may differ in their way to channel apoptotic stimuli, through p66 shc and p53 respectively, and in their mechanisms to control pluripotency and de novo methylation.