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Shavahn C Loux, Morgane Robles, Pascale Chavatte-Palmer, and Amanda M de Mestre

Development and the subsequent function of the fetal membranes of the equine placenta requires both complex and precise regulation of gene expression. Advancements in recent years in bioinformatic techniques have allowed more extensive analyses into gene expression than ever before. This review starts by combining publically available transcriptomic datasets obtained from a range of embryonic, placental and maternal tissues, with previous knowledge of equine placental development and physiology, to gain insights into key gene families relevant to placentation in the horse. Covering the whole of pregnancy, the review covers trophectoderm, yolk sac, chorionic girdle cells, allantoamnion, allantochorion. In particular, 182 predicted ‘early high impact’ genes were identified (>100 TPM and >100 fold-change) that distinguish between progenitor trophectoderm, chorionic girdle tissue and allantochorion. Furthermore, 77 genes were identified as enriched in placental tissues (placental TPM > 10, with minimal expression in 12 non-placental < 1 TPM), including excellent candidates for functional studies such as IGF1, apolipoproteins, VGLL1, GCM1, CDX2 and FABP4. One gene with a currently unknown function was only identified (miR-675) in chorionic girdle but no other placental or adult tissues. It is pertinent that future studies focus on single cell transcriptomic approaches in order to determine how these changes in gene expression relate to tissue composition and start to better define trophoblast subpopulations in the equine placenta. Future functional characterisation of these genes and pathways will also be key not only to understanding normal placental development and fetal health but also their potential role in pathologies of pregnancy.

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Morgane Robles, Shavahn C Loux, Amanda M de Mestre, and Pascale Chavatte-Palmer

Equine placental development is a long process with unique features. Implantation occurs around 40 days of gestation (dpo) with the presence of a transient invasive placenta from 25-35dpo to 100-120dpo. The definitive non-invasive placenta remains until term (330d). This definitive placenta is diffuse and epitheliochorial, exchanging nutrients, gas and waste with the endometrium through microvilli, called microcotyledons. These are lined by an external layer of haemotrophic trophoblast. Moreover, histotrophic exchange remains active through the histotrophic trophoblast located along the areolae. Placental development is dependent on the maternal environment that can be affected by several factors (e.g., nutrition, metabolism, age, embryo technologies, pathologies) that may affect foetal development as well as long-term offspring health. The first section of the review focuses on normal placental development as well as definitive placental structure. Differences between the various areas of the placenta are also highlighted. The latter sections provide an overview of the effects of the maternal environment and reproductive pathologies, respectively, on trophoblast/placental gene expression and structure. So far, only pre-implantation and late gestation/term data are available, which demonstrate an important placental plasticity in response to environmental variation, with genes involved in oxidative stress and tissue differentiation mostly involved in the pre-implantation period, whereas genes involved in foeto-placental growth and nutrient transfers are mostly perturbed at term.

Open access

Jordan E Read, Victoria Cabrera-Sharp, Victoria Offord, Samantha M Mirczuk, Steve P Allen, Robert C Fowkes, and Amanda M de Mestre

Equine chorionic girdle trophoblast cells play important endocrine and immune functions critical in supporting pregnancy. Very little is known about the genes and pathways that regulate chorionic girdle trophoblast development. Our aim was to identify genes and signalling pathways active in vivo in equine chorionic girdle trophoblast within a critical 7-days window. We exploited the late implantation of the equine conceptus to obtain trophoblast tissue. An Agilent equine 44K microarray was performed using RNA extracted from chorionic girdle and chorion (control) from equine pregnancy days 27, 30, 31 and 34 (n = 5), corresponding to the initiation of chorionic girdle trophoblast proliferation, differentiation and migration. Data were analysed using R packages limma and maSigPro, Ingenuity Pathway Analysis and DAVID and verified using qRT-PCR, promoter analysis, western blotting and migration assays. Microarray analysis showed gene expression (absolute log FC >2, FDR-adjusted P < 0.05) was rapidly and specifically induced in the chorionic girdle between days 27 and 34 (compared to day 27, day 30 = 116, day 31 = 317, day 34 = 781 genes). Pathway analysis identified 35 pathways modulated during chorionic girdle development (e.g. FGF, integrin, Rho GTPases, MAPK) including pathways that have limited description in mammalian trophoblast (e.g. IL-9, CD40 and CD28 signalling). Rho A and ERK/MAPK activity was confirmed as was a role for transcription factor ELF5 in regulation of the CGB promoter. The purity and accessibility of chorionic girdle trophoblast proved to be a powerful resource to identify candidate genes and pathways involved in early equine placental development.

Free access

Amanda M de Mestre, David Hanlon, A Paige Adams, Erin Runcan, Jane C Leadbeater, Hollis N Erb, Christina C Costa, Donald Miller, W R Allen, and Douglas F Antczak

The invasive and fully antigenic trophoblast of the chorionic girdle portion of the equine fetal membranes has the capacity to survive and differentiate after transplantation to ectopic sites. The objectives of this study were to determine i) the survival time of ectopically transplanted allogeneic trophoblast cells in non-pregnant recipient mares, ii) whether equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG) can be delivered systemically by transplanted chorionic girdle cells, and iii) whether eCG delivered by the transplanted cells is biologically active and can suppress behavioral signs associated with estrus. Ectopically transplanted chorionic girdle survived for up to 105 days with a mean lifespan of 75 days (95% confidence interval 55–94) and secreted sufficient eCG for the hormone to be measurable in the recipients’ circulation. Immunohistochemical labeling of serial biopsies of the transplant sites and measurement of eCG profiles demonstrated that graft survival was similar to the lifespan of equine endometrial cups in normal horse pregnancy. The eCG secreted by the transplanted cells induced corpora lutea formation and sustained systemic progesterone levels in the recipient mares, effects that are also observed during pregnancy. This in turn caused suppression of estrus behavior in the recipients for up to 3 months. Thus, ectopically transplanted equine trophoblast provides an unusual example of sustained viability and function of an immunogenic transplant in a recipient with an intact immune system. This model highlights the importance of innate immunoregulatory capabilities of invasive trophoblast cells and describes a new method to deliver sustained circulating concentrations of eCG in non-pregnant mares.

Free access

Denis Aleksic, Lisa Blaschke, Sophie Mißbach, Jana Hänske, Wiebke Weiß, Johannes Handler, Wolfgang Zimmermann, Victoria Cabrera-Sharp, Jordan E Read, Amanda M de Mestre, Ronan O’Riordan, Tom Moore, and Robert Kammerer

Pregnancy-specific glycoproteins (PSGs) are members of the carcinoembryonic antigen cell adhesion molecule (CEACAM) family that are secreted by trophoblast cells. PSGs may modulate immune, angiogenic and platelet responses during pregnancy. Until now, PSGs are only found in species that have a highly invasive (hemochorial) placentation including humans, mice and rats. Surprisingly, analyzing the CEACAM gene family of the horse, which has a non-invasive epitheliochorial placenta, with the exception of the transient endometrial cups, we identified equine CEACAM family members that seem to be related to PSGs of rodents and primates. We identified seven genes that encode secreted PSG-like CEACAMs. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that they evolved independently from an equine CEACAM1-like ancestor rather than from a common PSG-like ancestor with rodents and primates. Significantly, expression of PSG-like genes (CEACAM44, CEACAM48, CEACAM49 and CEACAM55) was found in non-invasive as well as invasive trophoblast cells such as purified chorionic girdle cells and endometrial cup cells. Chorionic girdle cells are highly invasive trophoblast cells that invade the endometrium of the mare where they form endometrial cups and are in close contact with maternal immune cells. Therefore, the microenvironment of invasive equine trophoblast cells has striking similarities to the microenvironment of trophoblast cells in hemochorial placentas, suggesting that equine PSG-like CEACAMs and rodent and primate PSGs have undergone convergent evolution. This is supported by our finding that equine PSG-like CEACAM49 exhibits similar activity to certain rodent and human PSGs in a functional assay of platelet–fibrinogen binding. Our results have implications for understanding the evolution of PSGs and their functions in maternal–fetal interactions.