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S Fair, K G Meade, K Reynaud, X Druart and S P de Graaf

In species where semen is deposited in the vagina, the cervix has the unique function of facilitating progress of spermatozoa towards the site of fertilisation while also preventing the ascending influx of pathogens from the vagina. For the majority of species, advances in assisted reproduction techniques facilitate the bypassing of the cervix and therefore its effect on the transit of processed spermatozoa has been largely overlooked. The exception is in sheep, as it is currently not possible to traverse the ovine cervix with an inseminating catheter due to its complex anatomy, and semen must be deposited at the external cervical os. This results in unacceptably low pregnancy rates when frozen-thawed or liquid stored (>24 h) semen is inseminated. The objective of this review is to discuss the biological mechanisms which regulate cervical sperm selection. We assess the effects of endogenous and exogenous hormones on cervical mucus composition and discuss how increased mucus production and flow during oestrus stimulates sperm rheotaxis along the crypts and folds of the cervix. Emerging results shedding light on the sperm-cervical mucus interaction as well as the dialogue between spermatozoa and the innate immune system are outlined. Finally, ewe breed differences in cervical function and the impact of semen processing on the success of fertilisation, as well as the most fruitful avenues of further investigation in this area are proposed.

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Edgar Ricardo Vázquez-Martínez, Yadira Inés Gómez-Viais, Elizabeth García-Gómez, Christian Reyes-Mayoral, Enrique Reyes-Muñoz, Ignacio Camacho-Arroyo and Marco Cerbón

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the leading endocrine and metabolic disorder in premenopausal women characterized by hyperandrogenism and abnormal development of ovarian follicles. To date, the PCOS etiology remains unclear and has been related to insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and infertility, among other morbidities. Substantial evidence illustrates the impact of genetic, intrauterine and environmental factors on the PCOS etiology. Lately, epigenetic factors have garnered considerable attention in the pathogenesis of PCOS considering that changes in the content of DNA methylation, histone acetylation and noncoding RNAs have been reported in various tissues of women with this disease. DNA methylation is changed in the peripheral and umbilical cord blood, as well as in ovarian and adipose tissue of women with PCOS, suggesting the involvement of this epigenetic modification in the pathogenesis of the disease. Perhaps, these defects in DNA methylation promote the deregulation of genes involved in inflammation, hormone synthesis and signaling and glucose and lipid metabolism. Research on the role of DNA methylation in the pathogenesis of PCOS is just beginning, and several issues await investigation. This review aims to provide an overview of current research focused on DNA methylation and PCOS, as well as discuss the perspectives regarding this topic.

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Xuan Phuoc Nguyen, Tomoko Nakamura, Satoko Osuka, Bayasula Bayasula, Natsuki Nakanishi, Yukiyo Kasahara, Ayako Muraoka, Shotaro Hayashi, Takashi Nagai, Tomohiko Murase, Maki Goto, Akira Iwase and Fumitaka Kikkawa

Folliculogenesis is a complex process, defined by the growth and development of follicles from the primordial population. Granulosa cells (GCs) play a vital role in every stage of follicular growth through proliferation, acquisition of gonadotropic responsiveness, steroidogenesis and production of autocrine/paracrine factors. A recently discovered hypothalamic neuropeptide phoenixin is involved in the regulation of the reproductive system. Phoenixin acts through its receptor, G protein-coupled receptor 173 (GPR173), to activate the cAMP/PKA pathway leading to the phosphorylation of CREB (pCREB). Here, we demonstrated the expression patterns of phoenixin and GPR173 in human ovary and explored its role in folliculogenesis. Phoenixin and GPR173 were both expressed in the human ovarian follicle, with increased expression in GCs as the follicle grows. Phoenixin treatment at 100 nM for 24 h induced the proliferation of human non-luteinized granulosa cell line, HGrC1 and significantly increased the expression levels of CYP19A1, FSHR, LHR and KITL, but decreased NPPC expression levels. These effects were suppressed by GPR173 siRNA. The expression level of CREB1, pCREB and estradiol (E2) production in the culture medium was significantly enhanced by phoenixin treatment in a concentration-dependent manner. Phoenixin also significantly increased the follicular area in a murine ovarian tissue culture model, leading to an increased number of ovulated oocytes with a higher level of maturation. Taken together, our data demonstrate that phoenixin is an intraovarian factor that promotes follicular growth through its receptor GPR173 by accelerating proliferation of GCs, inducing E2 production and increasing the expression of genes related to follicle development.

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S Freret, M Oseikria, D Le Bourhis, A Desmarchais, E Briant, O Desnoes, M Dupont, L Le Berre, O Ghazouani, P S Bertevello, A P Teixeira-Gomes, V Labas, S Uzbekova, P Salvetti, V Maillard and S Elis

Beneficial effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplementation on dairy cow reproduction have been previously reported. The objectives of the present study were to assess whether n-3 PUFA supplementation would affect in vitro embryo production (IVP) after ovarian stimulation. Holstein cows received a diet with 1% dry matter supplementation of either n-3 PUFA (n = 18, microencapsulated fish oil) or a control, n-6 PUFA (n = 19, microencapsulated soy oil). Both plasma and follicular fluid FA composition showed integration of total PUFA through the diet. All cows underwent an IVP protocol consisting of ovarian stimulation, ultrasound-guided transvaginal oocyte retrieval (ovum pick-up, OPU, five per cow) followed by in vitro maturation, fertilisation and 7 days of embryo development. A tendency toward an increase in the blastocyst rate (diet effect, P = 0.0865) was observed in n-3 cows, with 49.6 ± 5.5% vs 42.3 ± 5.5% in control n-6 cows. A significant increase (diet effect, P = 0.0217) in the good-quality blastocyst rate (freezable blastocysts) was reported in n-3 cows (42.2 ± 7.7%) compared to control n-6 cows (32.7 ± 7.7%). A significant difference in lipid composition was shown in the oocytes recovered by OPU from n-3 and n-6 treated cows, by intact single-oocyte MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. The 42 differentially abundant identified lipids were mainly involved in cell membrane structure. In conclusion, n-3 PUFA supplementation enhanced oocyte quality and modified their lipid composition. Further studies are necessary to investigate the potential link of these lipid modifications with enhanced oocyte quality.

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Meriem Hamdi, María J Sánchez-Calabuig, Beatriz Rodríguez-Alonso, Sandra Bagés Arnal, Kalliopi Roussi, Roger Sturmey, Alfonso Gutiérrez-Adán, Patrick Lonergan and Dimitrios Rizos

During its journey through the oviduct, the bovine embryo may induce transcriptomic and metabolic responses, via direct or indirect contact, from bovine oviduct epithelial cells (BOECs). An in vitro model using polyester mesh was established, allowing the study of the local contact during 48 h between a BOEC monolayer and early embryos (2- or 8-cell stage) or their respective conditioned media (CM). The transcriptomic response of BOEC to early embryos was assessed by analyzing the transcript abundance of SMAD6, TDGF1, ROCK1, ROCK2, SOCS3, PRELP and AGR3 selected from previous in vivo studies and GPX4, NFE2L2, SCN9A, EPSTI1 and IGFBP3 selected from in vitro studies. Moreover, metabolic analyses were performed on the media obtained from the co-culture. Results revealed that presence of early embryos or their CM altered the BOEC expression of NFE2L2, GPX4, SMAD6, IGFBP3, ROCK2 and SCN9A. However, the response of BOEC to two-cell embryos or their CM was different from that observed to eight-cell embryos or their CM. Analysis of energy substrates and amino acids revealed that BOEC metabolism was not affected by the presence of early embryos or by their CM. Interestingly, embryo metabolism before embryo genome activation (EGA) seems to be independent of exogenous sources of energy. In conclusion, this study confirms that early embryos affect BOEC transcriptome and BOEC response was embryo stage specific. Moreover, embryo affects BOEC via a direct contact or via its secretions. However transcriptomic response of BOEC to the embryo did not manifest as an observable metabolic response.

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Helena Malvezzi, Camila Hernandes, Carla A Piccinato and Sérgio Podgaec

The objective is to study the significance of altered interleukin levels in endometriosis-related infertility or pelvic pain. The present systematic review and meta-analysis includes a discussion on the roles of interleukin in the physiopathology of endometriosis-associated infertility and/or pelvic pain. We included all studies in which interleukins in peritoneal fluid, follicular fluid or serum from patients were measured and that correlated the findings with either peritoneal or deep endometriosis-associated infertility or pelvic pain. For the meta-analysis, we selected studies on the following cytokines: interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and interleukin-8 (IL-8). Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease. Inflammatory processes clearly participate in the etiology of endometriosis. Cytokines are mediators of inflammation, and increase in their concentration in plasma or other body fluids signals the presence and extent of tissue lesions. A number of studies have reported on the association between higher cytokine levels and progression or maintenance of endometriosis and coexisting infertility or pelvic pain. The results of the analyses support that an association exists between elevated serum IL-6 and/or IL-8 concentrations and the occurrence of endometriosis-associated infertility. Such association was not found for endometriosis-associated pain. In spite of accumulated evidence on the association of pro-inflammatory cytokines and endometriosis, it still is not clear if and how these mediators participate in the physiopathology of endometriosis-associated infertility or pelvic pain, in part due to poor quality of the evidence established in the vast majority of interleukins and challenges in endometriosis research reproducibility. In summary, the results of the analyses support that an association exists between elevated serum IL-6 and/or IL-8 concentrations and the occurrence of endometriosis-associated infertility.

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Vinay Shukla, Jyoti Bala Kaushal, Rohit Kumar, Pooja Popli, Promod Kumar Agnihotri, Kalyan Mitra and Anila Dwivedi

Microtubule (MT) dynamics plays a crucial role in fertilization and early embryonic development; however its involvement in uterus during embryo implantation remains unclear. Herein, we report the effect of microtubule depolymerization during embryo implantation in BALB/c mice. Intrauterine treatment with depolymerizing agent nocodazole at pre-implantation phase (D4, 07:00 h) in mice resulted into mitigation in receptivity markers viz. LIF, HoxA10, Integrin-β3, IHH, WNT4 and led to pregnancy failure. MT depolymerization in endometrial epithelial cells (EECs) also inhibited the blastocyst attachment and the adhesion. The decreased expression of MT polymerization-related proteins TPPP and α/β-tubulin in luminal and glandular epithelial cells along with the alteration in morphology of pinopodes in the luminal epithelium was observed in nocodazole receiving uteri. Nocodazole treatment also led to increased intracellular Ca+2 levels in EECs, which indicated that altered Ca+2 homeostasis might be responsible for implantation failure. Microtubule depolymerization inhibited WNT4 and Fz-2 interaction, thereby suppressing the downstream WNT4/CaMKIIα signaling cascades calmodulin and calcineurin which led to attenuation of NF-κB transcriptional promoter activity in EECs. MT depolymerization or CaMKIIα knockdown inhibited the transcription factor NFAT and NF-κB expression along with reduced secretion of prostaglandins PGE2 and PGF2α in mouse EECs. Overall, MT depolymerization impaired the WNT4/CaMKIIα signaling and suppressed the secretion of PGE2 and PGF2α in EECs which may be responsible for implantation failure in mice.

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Rachel L Piersanti, Anthony D Horlock, Jeremy Block, José E P Santos, I Martin Sheldon and John J Bromfield

Metritis is associated with reduced fertility in dairy cows, but the mechanisms are unclear because the disease resolves several weeks before insemination. One hypothesis is that metritis causes persistent changes in granulosa cells during follicle development, which might be evident in the transcriptome of granulosa cells from dominant follicles weeks after parturition. To test this hypothesis, we collected the follicular fluid and granulosa cells from dominant follicles 63 days post partum from cows previously diagnosed with metritis, at least 6 weeks after resolution of the disease and from cows not diagnosed with metritis (control cows). Bacterial lipopolysaccharide was detected in follicular fluid, and concentrations were associated with follicular fluid IL-8 and glucose concentrations. Transcriptome analysis using RNAseq revealed 177 differentially expressed genes in granulosa cells collected from cows that had metritis compared with control cows. The most upregulated genes were ITLN1, NCF2, CLRN3, FSIP2 and ANKRD17, and the most downregulated genes were ACSM1, NR4A2, GHITM, CBARP and NR1I3. Pathway analysis indicated that the differentially expressed genes were involved with immune function, cell–cell communication, cell cycle and cellular metabolism. Predicted upstream regulators of the differentially expressed genes included NFκB, IL-21 and lipopolysaccharide, which are associated with infection and immunity. Our data provide evidence for a persistent effect of metritis on the transcriptome of granulosa cells in ovarian follicles after the resolution of disease.

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Fan Zhou, Wei Chen, Yiqun Jiang and Zuping He

Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) are one of the most significant stem cells with the potentials of self-renewal, differentiation, transdifferentiation and dedifferentiation, and thus, they have important applications in reproductive and regenerative medicine. They can transmit the genetic and epigenetic information across generations, which highlights the importance of the correct establishment and maintenance of epigenetic marks. Accurate transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation is required to support the highly coordinated expression of specific genes for each step of spermatogenesis. Increasing evidence indicates that non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), including long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and circular RNAs (circRNAs), play essential roles in controlling gene expression and fate determination of male germ cells. These ncRNA molecules have distinct characteristics and biological functions, and they independently or cooperatively modulate the proliferation, apoptosis and differentiation of SSCs. In this review, we summarized the features, biological function and fate of mouse and human SSCs, and we compared the characteristics of lncRNAs and circRNAs. We also addressed the roles and mechanisms of lncRNAs and circRNAs in regulating mouse and human SSCs, which would add novel insights into the epigenetic mechanisms underlying mammalian spermatogenesis and provide new approaches to treat male infertility.

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Jinglei Wang, Wenli Ruan, Boshu Huang, Shuxin Shao, Dan Yang, Mengling Liu, Lin Zeng, Jie Wei and Jiaxiang Chen

Tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate (TOCP) has been widely used as plasticizers, plastic softeners and flame-retardants in industry and reported to have male reproductive toxicology. However, it is still unknown whether TOCP affects the female reproductive system and its underlying mechanism. In the present study, we found that TOCP exposure significantly decreased ovarian coefficient, caused disintegration and depletion of the granulosa cells in the ovary tissue and significantly inhibited the level of serum estradiol (E2). TOCP markedly increased both LC3-II and the ratio of LC3-II/LC3-I as well as autophagy proteins ATG5 and Beclin1 in the ovary tissue, implying that TOCP could induce autophagy in the ovary tissue. To further investigate the potential mechanism, primary ovarian granulosa cells were isolated in vitro and treated with 0–0.5 mM TOCP for 48 h. We showed that TOCP decreased the number of viable mouse granulosa cells without affecting cell cycle and apoptosis of the cells. Intriguingly, TOCP treatment markedly increased both LC3-II and the ratio of LC3-II/LC3-I as well as ATG5 and Beclin1. Furthermore, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) showed that autophagic vesicles in the cytoplasm increased significantly in the TOCP-treated cells, indicating that TOCP could induce autophagy in the cells. Taken together, TOCP reduces the number of viable cells and induces autophagy in mouse ovarian granulosa cells without affecting cell cycle and apoptosis.